Food industry advertising spat deepens

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

A selection of Swizzels Matlow products
A selection of Swizzels Matlow products

Related tags Advertising Nutrition

The Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) has stepped up its assault on food industry advertising, vowing to press on with complaints against Nestlé after winning a challenge against UK confectionery firm Swizzels Matlow.

CFC is pressing ahead with complaints about Nestlé UK’s latest advertising campaign Battle of the Breakfasts, insisting the food firm has contravened advertising rules, despite its protestations.

Nestlé Cereal Partners is flouting a 2008 Advertising Standards Authority ruling stating that it should not advise consumers should eat three portions of whole grain a day, according to the CFC.

It says Nestlé has continued to use the claim both on the section of its website focusing on the campaign and in recent UK national newspaper adverts. Nestlé countered by saying that it has included a reference to US Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines.

ASA backs Nestlé

In a response to FoodNavigator, the ASA backed Nestlé’s position. “A 2008 ASA ruling concluded that Nestle’s claim “Experts say you need 3 servings of whole grain a day” misleadingly implied there was agreement among experts about the specific quantity of wholegrain foods that should be consumed on a daily basis.

“The claim now appearing on Nestle’s website is different. It states: “Experts recommend that you eat at least 3 servings of whole grain each day 1”, with the 1. relating to the reference ‘U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture (2005). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005…’”

“As such, we’re satisfied that the claim on Nestle’s website is unlikely to breach the previous ASA adjudication. However if CFC has concerns about the current claim on Nestle’s website, we encourage it to lodge a new complaint.”

'Extremely surprised'

A spokesman for CFC, which is a part of pressure group Sustain, said he was “extremely surprised by the ASA’s position”, ​claiming the Committee of Advertising Practice Code stated only nutrition claims correlating with EC Regulation were allowed. "So ... the ASA seems to have changed its mind / disregarded its 2008 ruling.​ 

"Whichever, this is a serious case of inconsistent rulling, and we will be trying to raise the matter with the ASA Council when they next meet on September 7."

Meantime, the ASA ruled in favour of CFC following a complaint it lodged against confectionery processor Swizzels Matlow.

The group complained to the ASA that the manufacturer’s website featured a section called ‘Swizzels Town’, encouraging unhealthy nutritional practices in children and using a licensed character to promote sweets to children.

Swizzels Matlow denied that it intended to encourage unhealthy eating habits in children and said the licensed TV character Scooby Doo was not specifically aimed at children, the ASA upheld both complaints.

It acknowledged a game featured on the Cola Capers section of Swizzels Matlow’s Swizzels Town web content urged children to collect almost 100 Cola Bottles while avoiding angry parents.

Aimed at young children

“We considered the game, which was relatively long in duration, was aimed at young children and condoned eating a large number of sweets whilst hiding this fact from one's parents,”​ the ASA ruling stated. “We therefore concluded that the Cola Capers game irresponsibly encouraged poor nutritional habits and an unhealthy lifestyle in children. Because of this section only, we concluded that the ad had breached the Code on this point.

Referring to the use of Scooby Doo online games to promote its sweets, the ASA said: “Although Swizzels stated that many adults played online games, because these games were not particularly difficult or sophisticated, we considered that they were targeted at a younger age group, specifically primary-school children.

“Code rule 15.15 stated, ‘... Except those for fresh fruit or fresh vegetables, food advertisements that are targeted directly at pre-school or primary school children through their content must not include licensed characters or celebrities popular with children’. It therefore concluded that the website breached the Code.”​ 

Related topics Regulation & safety

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