The investigation followed a challenge from competitor Yoplait Dairy Crest, which took issue with the claims made in the Little Stars ads: ‘100 percent natural ingredients’ and ‘a helping hand from mother nature’.
The issue stems from a lack of clear regulations governing the use of the term ‘natural’. In the UK, there is currently no definition of the term for use on foods, but the Food Standards Agency (FSA) does set out some best practice guidelines in its ‘Criteria for the Use of the Terms Fresh, Pure, Natural Etc in Food Labelling’ (2002).
Interpretation of guidance
Müller’s ads for its Little Stars range of children’s jellies, fromage frais, yoghurts and yoghurt drink products claim that they contain as little as five ingredients, all of which are “pure and natural”. Text accompanying the ads states “100 percent natural”.
In its complaint, Yoplait questioned whether the natural claims were “fair and accurate”. Specifically, it took issue with the blackcurrant juice and orange juice from concentrate, inulin, corn starch, gelatine and colour additives (annatto, carmines and beetroot extract) in some of the products, suggesting that these may not accord with FSA’s best practice guidelines.
In Müller’s response, the firm explained it had sought, as far as possible, to “use only natural ingredients which a consumer could easily recognise and understand and which might even be used in home cooking.”
The company said the ‘100 percent natural ingredients’ claim meant that all the ingredients in Little Stars were natural, not that each individual ingredient was ‘100 percent natural’, and said its target audience wanted products free from artificial additives and artificially produced ingredients.
Müller also pointed FSA document was ‘best practice’ guidance for marketers and did not have a mandatory or legal status.
ASA upheld Yoplait’s complaint, concluding that the ads breached broadcast codes for ‘misleading advertising’ and ‘truthfulness’.
The agency said that the term ‘natural’ in relation to food ingredients was only legally defined in EU legislation when applied to flavourings, tuna and bonito and mineral waters.
FSA’s best practice guidance for food labelling indicates that ‘natural’ means "produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man". The term relates to both the origins of an ingredient and the processes to which it might have been subjected.
Specifically, it would be considered misleading to use the term to describe foods or ingredients that used chemicals to change their composition or comprised the products of new technologies, including additives and flavourings that were the product of the chemical industry or extracted by chemical processes.
For example, processes that could not be considered natural include: Concentration, pasteurisation, sterilisation, bleaching, oxidation, smoking and tenderising with chemicals and hydrogenation.
The ASA concluded that Müller’s TV and print ads must not be shown again in their current form.
To read the full complaint and assessment , click here.