According to a report in The Telegraph, the EU is proposing to change the fruit content requirements for products labelled as ‘Jam’. Its technocrats seem to believe they are the world’s rule setters even though jam is an English word. A similar substance made from fruit and sugar is called Confiture by the French. The Spanish call their version mermelada. The Italians marmellata. The Greeks μαρμελάδα, the Dannes syltetøj, the Swedes sylt, the Polish Konfitura, the Czechs džem, the Estonians moos, while the Americans call it Jelly.
I could obviously go on and on, but the point is jam is what the British call this fabulous substance. If anyone gets to determine the ingredients of ‘jam’ it should be us. Not the EU.
The EU does have form in forcing its members to change their product names. The Germans apparently now have to call their version Konfitüre instead of the traditional Marmalade because the EU decided that Marmalade must contain citrus fruit. But the process of making marmalade goes back to ancient Greece and refers to the process of stewing fruit in honey. It had nothing to do with citrus fruit.
So why does the EU want to regulate the ingredients of jam and the ridiculously named EU-english product – ‘Extra Jam’. There is no such thing, it is simply jam. Producers could perhaps call it ‘extra fruity jam’ if they like, but there is no definitive amount of fruit or sugar required for jam, it depends on the sweetness of the fruit being used and the desired consistency of the end product: Set jam verses runny jam. Even the EU has accepted that jam made with citrus fruit, generally called marmalade in the English-speaking world, only needs 20% fruit.
While investigating this story I found that in general most UK jams appear to already comply with the EU’s proposed ruling, although some French jams may need to change their labels, as I discuss later.
As for hurting UK exports! There seems to be some confusion – the UK imported 43 thousand tonnes of jam, jellies, (non-citrus) marmalades and fruit purees in 2022, 88% of which came from the EU. But the UK exported only 6 thousand tonnes, of which about two thirds went to the EU, mainly Ireland who bought about half of these UK exports to the EU. (The Telegraph claims the UK exports 10.6 million kilos, 10.6 thousand tonnes, but this includes citrus marmalades and nut purees which aren’t affected by the EU’s rule changes).
A mere 4,262 tonnes of non-citrus jam exports to the EU is unlikely to be enough to force the few UK manufacturers with less than 45g of fruit in their jam to change their recipe. The UK’s biggest jam market is the UK itself. In 2021, UK sales of UK manufactured jams, jellies and fruit or nut purees and pastes were 117,692 tonnes. So why would anyone think we need to change the fruit content of the tiny amount of fruit jams we export to the EU?
As for international trade, the US dominates the global market for imported jam, jellies, etc – if any country should be allowed to determine what constitutes jam, it should be the US. And although UK brand Wilkin & Sons as well as the French brand Bonne Maman, are both amongst the 15 top selling brands in the US, all of the others are NOT from Europe let alone the EU.
The US imported 262,366 tonnes of jam, jellies and (non-citrus) marmalades in 2022 and its largest supplier was Chile who exported 62,139 tonnes of HS 200799 jams, jellies, (non-citrus) marmalades purees and pastes of fruit to the US in 2022. This was more than total US imports from the whole of the EU of only 53,908 tonnes. The largest EU supplier to the US was France, 4TH after Chile, Mexico and Colombia and just ahead of Canada, Egypt, India and Argentina. The Telegraph believes the EU is the largest importer of jam, but this is almost all imports from other EU countries not imports from countries outside the EU.
Total world exports of HS 200799: Jams, Jelly, (non-citrus) marmalade, etc in 2021 were 1,654,246 tonnes. The largest single exporting nation was Chile, exporting 131,321 tonnes in 2021. So why does the EU believe it should get to make the jam rules?
Besides questioning why the EU thinks they can set the rules for an English product name, jam, rather than setting the rules for European confiture, (after all they have forced the Germans to use this word), there is also the question of why they would want to do this at all? What difference does it make to the EU, other than as a non-tariff barrier to exclude imported products from Chile, Mexico, Columbia, Canada, India and Egypt?
Searching on the Tesco’s and Waitrose websites for strawberry jam, I notice the popular French brand Bonne Maman doesn’t even call its product ‘jam’ but uses the more sophisticated ‘conserve’. While another French Brand, St Dalfour, that claims to be 100% fruit (due to using grape and date juice rather than sugar) calls its product ‘fruit spread’. Even though, according to The Telegraph article, the EU has suggested that jams with less than 45g of fruit will be downgraded from jam to ‘fruit spread’. The marketing people at St Dalfour will surely be outraged that their 100% fruit product’s name will now be synonymous with low fruit jam under the proposed EU ruling.
The fruit content of the strawberry jams sold by Waitrose and Tesco range from 35g of fruit to 71g per 100g – all but three would already make the ‘new’ EU imposition of 45 grams of fruit, and the fruit content is clearly displayed on the label as well as on the store websites. So why would the EU believe this type of legislation is even necessary?
Also, why would the EU want to increase the fruit content of jam? Do its technocrats think this would reduce the amount of sugar added to the jams? If so, they will be disappointed, that isn’t the way jam works. The quantity of sugar really determines how set or how runny the jam is. MacKay’s and Duchy Organics both have 65 grams of sugar per 100 grams, but their fruit quantity varies from 35g to 58g. St Dalfour’s 100% fruit, Fruit Spread is almost liquid. I have yet to try Fearne & Rosie and they don’t give an amount of added sugar on the website. (So I will simply have to buy some – the lengths I go to for truth in trade articles! I might grab some scones and clotted cream while I am there.)
The other consumer choice issue besides runny versus set jam, is of course price. The jams with less fruit and more sugar are generally cheaper per 100 grams. More fruit generally costs more, as does fancy packaging and marketing. The price difference between the cheapest and most expensive jams was over 10x in my short survey of only two UK supermarkets. This is not an insignificant difference.
There is also the suggestion that jam makers in Northern Ireland will have to follow the EU rules, but while I am not an expert on Northern Ireland jam makers, they appear to produce SME artisan high fruit jams. I found one on the internet called Erin Grove Preserves and its Strawberry Preserve already contains 60 grams of fruit. The UK’s jam makers are so far ahead of the EU.
The EU can huff and puff all it likes about conforming to its rules, but I also notice the three cheapest jams on the list above are still sold in 454 gram jars, otherwise known as 1lb or ‘one pound’.
As for the nitwittery of calling jam with more fruit ‘extra jam’ – well this would just force producers to relabel their products, why, when these products are already generally called preserve or conserve except for the incredible sensible Fearne & Rosie who despite the massive 71 grams of fruit in their product, still simply calls it jam.
But the main point is that shoppers must be allowed to decide for themselves if they like set jam or runny jam or extra fruity jam or expensive jam or cheap jam. The information is already on the label, but this will mainly be a personal preference. Most certainly the EU should have nothing to do with determining UK standards, especially of a product it hardly imports from any country outside its customs block, including the UK.
The UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published a memorandum about the changes. They intend to ‘engage with UK interested parties to assess the merits of the proposals and reach a view on whether it is in the best interest of the UK to consider similar changes.’ Isn’t it time that we reminded our politicians that we know how to read a product label and can make up our own minds about what we buy.
Now the UK is out of the EU, we have to let the market determine these things. Shoppers know what they like and more importantly how much they are prepared to pay for it.