When it comes to health claims, just because you can doesn't mean you should

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With health and wellness increasingly acknowledged as a key driver of consumer purchasing decisions, the opportunity to communicate positive health and nutrition related aspects of foods continues to be readily taken up by marketers. 

However, just because you can make health and nutrition related claims, doesn't always mean you should.

As the environment becomes increasingly sensitive to the way foods are marketed, in particular practices linked to the marketing of children’s products, food businesses are learning the importance of being increasingly vigilant about the claims they make and the context within which they are made.

While the Food Standards Code provides significant opportunities for communicating health and nutrition related aspects of foods, simply making a claim without stopping to think more broadly about the public health environment in which we now find ourselves, could risk giving consumers an impression about your product that ends up calling your credibility into question.

We were reminded of this last week as Heinz headed to the federal court to defend allegations made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that it’s Shredz snack product for kids carried claims that gave the impression the product was healthier than it actually was. Made from 99% fruit and vegetable derived ingredients, the ACCC allege the product was too high in sugar, not nutritious and was in fact unhealthy. 

While the company is defending the allegations, the simple fact the case is in court is likely to have implications for Heinz reputation with parents, one of their long term, core target group of consumers.

Trust is a big issue for food businesses, particularly large ones, so taking extra care and responsibility when communicating about health and nutrition related aspects of products is now more important than ever. If this is not done, calls for greater levels of regulation could be louder, erosion of consumer trust may continue and blame for contributing to public health problems such as overweight and obesity and poor quality diets may continue to build.

With this in mind, there are 3 questions which can be helpful to ask yourself before making health and nutrition related product claims: 

  1. Am I over-emphasizing one nutrient and not acknowledging the presence of another that represents a potential red flag? If so, what do I need to consider before wording my claims? 
  2. What are the high priority health and nutritional considerations of my target group and have I taken these into account?  This will assist with tailoring of messages to ensure greater levels of acceptance in the market.
  3. Are my claims consistent with my company's corporate health and nutrition related values, guidelines and commitments? Having such guidelines will assist to provide clarity in decision making.

If you can confidently answer each of the above questions and think more broadly about the context in which your health and nutrition related claims and communications occur, the chance your message will be well received by your core consumers will be greater, while the risk of receiving any unwanted negative attention will be lower.