Van den Bergh Foods Ltd
McNeil Consumer Nutritionals objected to a national press advertisement and an insert in a supermarket customer loyalty magazine for Flora pro.activ margarine. The press advertisement claimed "It's not surprising that Flora pro.activ is big news in Australia. When eaten as part of a healthy diet, it's been clinically proven to reduce LDL cholesterol by an average of 10 to 15 per cent". The magazine advertisement claimed "Studies show that moving to a healthy diet including around 20g of Flora pro.activ per day (normal daily usage) gives average LDL (bad) cholesterol reductions of 10-15% within 3 weeks." The complainants believed the studies that demonstrated LDL cholesterol reductions of 10-15% used significantly higher quantities of the active ingredient than would normally be consumed and the claims in:
The advertisers said using spreads that contained polyunsaturated fats, such as Flora, instead of spreads that contained saturated fats, such as butter, helped to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. They explained that Flora pro.activ contained plant sterols that gave it an even greater LDL cholesterol lowering effect than normal spreads containing polyunsaturated fats. The advertisers said their studies demonstrated that using Flora pro.activ instead of spread containing polyunsaturated fats could lower LDL cholesterol levels by 10%. They said the studies showed that using 20 g of Flora pro.activ per day instead of butter or hard margarine could lower LDL cholesterol levels by 12-13%. If Flora pro.activ was used as recommended, in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle, LDL cholesterol could be reduced by as much as 18%. The advertisers said they strongly believed they were right to market their product in the context of a healthy diet and lifestyle and therefore all their advertising made clear that the product was best used "as part of a healthy diet". All their packs contained extensive guidelines on healthy eating and lifestyle and more information was provided via direct mail and on their website. They felt it was important that a range of results was quoted in advertisements for the product to highlight that not everyone achieved the best results. The advertisers added that Flora pro.activ had been submitted to a full review by all EU member states as part of the EU Novel Foods process. Although the primary purpose of that review was safety approval, key labelling requirements were set and agreed as part of the process. The advertisers submitted several studies that they believed substantiated their claims.
The Authority noted that several of the studies submitted by the advertisers in support of their claim were based on daily consumption of about 20 g per day of the product, an amount that was in line with normal consumption levels of spreads.
The Authority took expert advice. It acknowledged that the greatest effect would be seen among those consumers who changed from a high fat diet using butter to a low fat diet using the advertisers' product and that using the recommended amount of the advertisers' product could produce the claimed reductions in cholesterol.
1. Complaint upheld
The Authority considered that the advertisement implied that consumers already following a healthy diet and lifestyle could achieve the claimed 10-15% reductions in LDL cholesterol. The Authority noted the studies submitted by the advertisers showed people with a healthy diet and active lifestyles were likely to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 10% only. The Authority concluded that the claim was misleading.
2. Complaint not upheld
The Authority noted the insert suggested that Flora pro.activ was "an easy addition to a healthy diet" and should be used "as part of your normal healthy diet" and featured images of people that suggested they had an active, healthy lifestyle but stated clearly that "moving to a healthy diet including around 20 g of Flora pro.activ per day (normal daily usage) gives average LDL (bad) cholesterol reductions of 10-15%." The Authority considered that, because the studies submitted by the advertisers showed people who changed from a high fat diet using butter or hard margarine to a low fat diet including Flora pro.activ could achieve the claimed reductions in LDL cholesterol, the claim was not misleading.
McNeil Consumer Nutritionals
Van den Bergh Foods objected to a brochure and a national press advertisement, both published in 1999. The press advertisement claimed "Benecol margarine spread and Light spread change the rules on reducing cholesterol … because only Benecol is made with a plant extract that blocks the absorption of LDL (bad) cholesterol and carries it away - reducing it by an average of 14%*. Simply eat three servings a day from the range of Benecol foods as part of your healthy diet." A footnote stated "(*Reduction of serum cholesterol with sitostanol-ester margarine in a population with mildly elevated cholesterol. New England Journal of Medicine 1995 …)". The brochure made a similar claim. The complainants believed that to achieve the claimed 14% reduction in LDL cholesterol consumers would have to eat 32.5 g of spread a day, 12.5 g above the UK average consumption. They objected that most UK consumers were unlikely to achieve a 14% cholesterol reduction and the claims in:
The advertisers stated that their margarine and other Benecol products contained plant stanols that could lower LDL cholesterol by 14% when consumed in the recommended amounts. They sent statements from two experts who believed that a 14% reduction in LDL cholesterol could be obtained from a daily intake of 24 g to 36 g of Benecol that was combined with a healthy, cholesterol-reducing diet. The advertisers believed the advertisements made clear, and readers would understand, that the 14% reduction would be seen as the combination of the LDL cholesterol reduction resulting from the healthy diet and that resulting from the consumption of Benecol. The advertisers referred to a review of published research, to market research and to published studies that indicated that at the recommended 32.5 g amount of Benecol the LDL cholesterol reduction would be 14% in subjects aged 50 to 59 years. The advertisers pointed out that the brochure stated that consumers needed to eat "two to three servings a day for the optimum effect" and that one serving of margarine should be 12 g, the equivalent of two level teaspoons.
The Authority noted the press advertisement drew a distinction between a healthy diet with Benecol and a healthy diet without Benecol. It considered that readers would infer that the claimed 14% reduction in cholesterol resulted entirely from the Benecol consumption and was in addition to the cholesterol-reducing benefits of a healthy diet. The Authority noted the brochure emphasised the importance of lifestyle changes including diet. It nevertheless considered that the brochure did not make clear that the claimed 14% reduction resulted from a general dietary change and changing to Benecol. The Authority concluded that both advertisements were misleading and asked the advertisers to state their intended claims more clearly in future.
The Authority took expert advice and understood that the review of published research on stanols and sterols had found that the LDL cholesterol reduction was 11% in subjects aged 30 to 39, 9% in subjects aged 40 to 49 years and 14% in subjects aged 50 to 59 years. The Authority noted the advertisers had been unable to show that most consumers of Benecol products were 50 to 59 years. It understood, moreover, that some of the studies cited by the advertisers had compared the cholesterol reduction of the subjects who consumed plant stanols with that of subjects who consumed spreads high in saturated fats, such as butter, not placebo margarine, and that the results listed in a table the advertisers had submitted had not subtracted the LDL cholesterol reduction found in the control group. The Authority understood that the results of all published studies submitted showed that, for all ages, the mean LDL cholesterol reduction was between 10% and 12%; 14% was the highest average reduction reported, not the mean of all measurements. The Authority concluded that the 14% average LDL cholesterol reduction claimed in both the brochure and the press advertisement could not be substantiated in all age groups and the term "average" should not be used.
The Authority noted the press advertisement referred to three servings a day but did not make clear that the 12 g serving sizes for the margarine were considerably larger than a yellow fat typical serving size; consumers who were not aware of that and who ate three typical servings of the margarine were unlikely, therefore, to eat the amount required to achieve the claimed reduction in LDL cholesterol. The Authority concluded that the advertisers should have made clear the large size of the recommended servings and considered the press advertisement misleading in that respect.
The Authority noted the brochures stated the number of servings and weight of the margarine that was recommended to be eaten daily. The Authority nevertheless concluded that the brochure was misleading, because it considered that most UK consumers were unlikely to eat that amount of the product daily.
The Authority welcomed the advertisers' assurance that the advertisements would not appear again and asked them to ensure that future claims related to their intended audience, that they took account of control group results when citing the results of experimental studies, that they did not use a single experiment result if a range of results existed, that they clearly differentiated between the effects of changing to Benecol and those of changing other aspects of the diet and that they used more realistic serving sizes in future.