You know that you really shouldn’t believe everything you read. Especially when it’s written on an advertisement. And if it’s a science or health claim on an advert, then you really know to be sceptical. Because, for as long as man has been trying to sell something, he has tried to get one over on his would-be customer. Science and health claims just happen to be an easy way to do it.
Things aren’t as bad as they used to be (just look at some of these medical ads of the 1890s!). For the road to marketing success is now littered with the empty packets of products that tried to dupe us – companies selling anti-ageing creams have been caught out airbrushing their models, car manufacturers have been discovered revved-up their vehicle specs, pro-biotic yoghurts have claimed health benefits that didn’t exist and even the biggest brands –as in the case of Reebok’s ‘butt toning’ training shoes – have been caught with their pants down embellishing the science.
And so it was that one afternoon, sat in a local coffee shop, I spied a table-top advert for a brand of fruit smoothie: each drink having ‘2.5 of your 5 A DAY’. That’s impressive – one big fruity slurp that has half of all the day’s recommended leafy goodness. It’s a claim that I’d never seen before on a fruit smoothie before and it got my spider-sense tingling. Too good to be true? It most certainly was.
Let’s start with some of the basic facts. The ‘5 a Day’ campaign is all about encouraging people to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables in healthy amounts. For a food to be ‘1 of your 5 A Day’, it must contain 80g of a fruit or vegetable (and not be a potato). That’s equivalent to one medium-sized apple or three heaped tablespoons of cooked veg. Having that much plant stuff in a portion of food is not too difficult to achieve – and you often see ‘1 of your 5 a Day’ written on packets of fruit salad and kid’s ready meals. Less common is a ‘2 of your 5-a-day’ claim. To label a food as such, it needs to contain two 80g portions of at least two different fruits or vegetables. And following these rules, the healthy-looking smoothies failed to offer such variety.
Variety is key to any balanced diet and the ‘5 a Day’ principles – you simply can’t eat a bag of carrots every day and say that you are getting ‘5 a Day’. (For one thing, you’ll turn orange.) So, even without getting the calculator out, it is obvious that blending two types of fruit can’t ever count as more than ‘2 of 5 a day’ (as was being claimed) – no matter how big the portion is. NHS guidance also sets additional rules on juices and smoothies, to ensure that whole fruits and vegetables aren’t substituted for high sugar, fibre-less juices.
Alerting the food producer to their calculation error made no difference. They stuck by their sums. And so one year, two official reports and numerous letters later, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have today ruled that LoveTaste’s claims were ‘misleading’, ‘unsubstantiated’ and ‘exaggerated’. You can read the full report here, along with their defence.
I share this story as part encouragement and part warning not to believe all that you read. Hopefully my tale will encourage anyone to challenge sweet-looking claims that smell fishy. Checking out the facts on adverts is often not that tricky and I discovered that making a complaint on the ASA website is pretty pain-free (even if it does take a while to get a final ruling).
Ultimately, this debacle leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. For while the ASA ruling prevents the company from advertising their ‘2.5 of your 5 a Day’ claim in most situations (although I note it is still on their website at the time of writing) – it can’t prevent shops or coffee shops from displaying it inside. At present, the ASA has no jurisdiction within stores. I now know that it must be dealt with by local trading standards.
So as I ponder what, if anything, to do next, I’ll sip my coffee. And as I look across the coffee shop, I see that there is now a new smoothie poster stuck on the wall over there. Now, I have to admit, I quite fancy a smoothie. Perhaps I’ll treat myself to one, just to celebrate.
Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.Follow @realdoctorstu