Added Extras May Not Add Up

Discussion
Nov 02, 2007

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

Most food manufacturers and retailers know they must choose their words carefully. Making unproven claims is neither permissible legally, nor accepted by consumers. Conditions must apply. They can say that something may be good for you or may possibly, perhaps, reduce the likelihood of some dire consequence. They must not be assertive or too positive. Benefit by implication must suffice.

But–and there is always a but–there has as yet been little or no explicit link between saying that an ingredient may be good for you and how much of it you need to consume in order to achieve that possible benefit. Which?, the U.K. consumer advocacy group formerly known as the Consumers’ Association, has now gone on the attack for precisely that reason. According to The Telegraph, Which? maintains that products containing Omega 3 are making “baffling” health claims.

Omega 3, one of the most highly regarded ingredients at the moment, is a fatty acid naturally occurring in oily fish and some plants. It has variously been linked to potential reduction in heart disease and some cancers as well as potential increase in cognitive function.

According to the consumer group, however, “more than half the products on supermarket shelves which claimed to include Omega 3 had negligible health benefits, because they either contained so little or the wrong sort of the acid. Sliced bread, yogurts, fruit juices and milk were all found to exaggerate the amount or type of Omega 3 that was included in the food.”

Experts maintain that the vegetarian form of Omega 3 found in plants is not nearly as beneficial as the variety occurring in fish. Dr. Alex Richardson told The Telegraph, “Some food labels are muddling together things that have different biological effects. Omega 3 from vegetarian sources is very different and does not have the same health benefits.” But the Which? report points out that labels listing Omega 3 as an ingredient do not make the differences clear.

The Which? report is among several recent complaints over misleading claims from the food industry.

Sense About Science, a charitable trust that works with 3,000 young UK-based researchers, criticized 11 companies for making ‘pseudo-scientific’ claims in a report entitled, ‘There Goes the Science Bit.’ Nestle’s claims for its Ski Activ8 yogurt were also publicly questioned. Ensuring that information on labels is true does not necessarily indicate that there are sufficient amounts of each ingredient to actually achieve the implied benefits.

Discussion questions: Are manufacturers getting overzealous with their health claims? How far should they promote products that have only minimal benefit?

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7 Comments on "Added Extras May Not Add Up"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

The US neutraceuticals business is largely based on lax government regulation. Industry lobbyists have a great home run record, preventing most meaningful reforms for decades. The neutraceuticals category is among the most profitable for retailers and ad media, both. Where would cable TV profits be without the endless advertising barrage? And where would drug store and vitamin store profits be if every one of these products had to prove its claims and purity?

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Most interactions between the marketer and consumer are not regulated. As a result, marketers often push the envelope regarding product claims/benefits. However, if we do not do a better job of providing accurate and relevant claims then we run the risk of having the public policy maker (government) intervene and set the rules. Often the rules established by the public policy maker are not easy to implement or follow.

Another related issue is that different government organizations often have conflicting definitions or rules. An example of this is the confusion between “natural” and “organic.” Natural is regulated by the FDA and organic by USDA.

In sum, if marketers don’t do a better job in this area they will be legislated to do so, and I can assure you that no one will be happy with the outcome.

Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
14 years 6 months ago
Health & Wellness is such a hot, yet complicated, topic in today’s retail environment, due to the fact that consumers don’t even know what they want. Manufacturers are capitalizing on every possible health trend that has captured even the smallest spotlight in any number of consumer influence channels. Ten years ago, it was easy. Low fat, low salt = good weight, good health. Yesterday, you couldn’t touch a carbohydrate. Today, you are told to look for anything that could possibly impact your health: high cholesterol, trans-fat, poly this, mono that, non-organic, pesticide and hormone ridden, corn fed, corn adds, high glucose, simple sugars, non-whole grains, bleached flour, vitamin-deficient, overly processed, above 115 degrees, the list goes on! To solve for virtually all, manufacturers would need to learn how to market a simple green bean, slice of raw fish and an almond. Even then, mercury content could be raised as an issue. As long as there are varying consumer needs and rapidly evolving health claims, less is more. Communicating constantly-changing wellness silver bullets will only confuse… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Yes they are overzealous. Ever since tonic was sold on the back of wagons, we have seen an onslaught of health claims regarding food products. Really, it’s “buyer beware.” Just about every kind of food is good for you depending on the situation. Even a McDonald’s cheeseburger is good for you if you had absolutely no other access to food. It’s the responsibility of food companies to go to great lengths to promote their product to maximize sales, so long as they don’t break the law.

David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

The overzealous claims made by brands in all types of categories are unfortunate because consumers become increasingly skeptical about all claims, even those that are true and accurate.

Jerry Tutunjian
Guest
Jerry Tutunjian
14 years 6 months ago

I have always wondered about food product health claims. How much of the “health enhancing” ingredient is included in the formula? How much, how often, and for how long should the consumer ingest it to obtain “permanent” health benefits? In the past year we have seen pomegranate climb the Mount Olympus of healthy foods. There are now hundreds of products which have pomegranate/juice in them. The question is: how much pure pomegranate is there in the product? One percent or 25%? What percentage would make a beneficial difference?

Carlos Arámbula
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

This is nothing new. The cereal category was launched, developed, and sustained under these premises. However, the recent trend of all products being neutraceuticals is the result of lazy marketing. All food manufacturers should look into the graveyard of “low-carb” products and heed warnings on how fads have been confused and misinterpreted at a very high cost.

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