Understanding UK’s regulatory framework
For makers of health focused food, the regulatory framework that controls advertising in the UK can pose a potential minefield with even well established brands falling foul of the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).
Speaking as part of NutraFormulate’s Food for Thought Conference, Georgia Taylor, Marketing and Claims Advisor for Leatherhead Food Research presented an update on the latest regulatory decisions relating to nutrition and health claims in non-broadcast and broadcast media.
We picked up with Georgia to further discuss key points surrounding comparative nutrition claims, general and specific health claims and flexibility of wording, including in relation to cognitive function claims.
Wording is crucial
The nutrition and health claims regulation makes clear that only authorised claims or claims that have the same meaning can be used. So if amending health or nutrition claims to wording that deviates from those set out in the regulation, food producers have to ensure that they have the same meaning both from a scientific stand point and in the understanding of consumers. Consumers must not come away with the understanding that the particular benefits of a product are greater than those that have been assessed by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA). One example of this would be a product claiming that its ingredient “enhanced brain health” whereas the actual approved health claim for that ingredient was that it “supported brain health”. The words “enhance” and “support” have different meanings both linguistically and in their scientific meaning, so consumers could come away with a perception that the health benefits of a product are greater than they actually are.
Fair and unfair comparisons
Food companies often directly take on their competitors through health claims by comparing products. In this instance it is important that the products compared are both comparable in their format or purpose and a fair representation of the range of products available on the market as a whole. A further requirement is that the products must also be relatively nutritionally comparable. For example to compare one breakfast cereal with another is a fair comparison. The format itself plays an important role. For example to compare dry porridge oats, even if like for like, is an unfair comparison as porridge requires added liquid for it to be consumed.
Beauty and nutrition claims
Over the past year the ASA have investigated several complaints concerning food supplement products that made claims of reducing fine lines and wrinkles. In these cases the ASA ruled that ‘beauty claims’ are not health claims so don’t fall under the nutrition and health claims regulation. Some complaints over collagen drinks saw adverts being banned from broadcast for the reasons that the nutritional product could not substantiate a beauty claim.
Nutrient benefits not brand benefits
When advertising any product, one key regulation is that health claims must relate to the ingredient or nutrient within a product rather than presenting the product or brand itself as delivering the benefit. To present a product or brand as delivering the benefit may confuse the consumer into understanding that one brand or product in particular provides a specific health benefit where in actual fact it is the nutrients, which may also be found in other like for like products on the market. The correct approach would be to make an approved health claim linked to the ingredients of a product. For example “Sports Drink X contains carbohydrates which contribute to the recovery of normal muscle function after intensive exercise”.