The latest Commerce Commission campaign, “if you can’t back it up, don’t say it” is particularly relevant to food businesses making health and nutrition claims. One doesn’t have to look far to find dubious marketing messages about food products. Of course, many of these might not be immediately obvious to those who are not experts in food and nutrition, but it’s usually a matter of time before the bells start ringing – who remembers the rapid rise and fall of coconut oil?
With mounting pressure on food companies to do their bit to address various health problems and consumers demanding greater transparency, it’s never been more important for companies to walk the talk. And there’s plenty to be gained by a business showing it has its consumers’ interests at heart – trust and brand loyalty is highly sought after in a competitive, fragmented marketplace.
In order to walk the talk, what sort of proof do food companies need?
A good starting point is knowing your product and what’s in it. This can be done by getting your product’s nutritional composition tested in an accredited laboratory. This is particularly important for food that has undergone some sort of processing as this will affect nutrient content. In Australia and New Zealand, the nutrients being claimed must on average, be above the claimable level throughout the product’s shelf-life.
The next thing to think about is what sort of impression you are giving about your product. This goes beyond the statements you use, and includes imagery as well. It is doubtful for example, that a powder derived from fruits and greens that has no resemblance to its original state, will, as has been suggested, compensate for short-falls in fruit and vegetable intake. One would want to be confident that such as product provides the nutrition that makes fresh fruit and vegetables so valuable to our health – fibre, and a range of vitamins and minerals, for starters.
Businesses should also think about where their product fits into dietary recommendations. Is it a core food or does it fit better with the treats for occasional eating? It’s worth considering the science underpinning the dietary recommendation and asking if you have the evidence to support the general impression you’re giving about your product’s impact on health?
Remember that regulations are the bare minimum, not the gold standard. There will always be loop holes, so it comes back to the integrity of the individual business to act responsibly and in the best interests of its consumers. It will pay off.