Who: ASA

Where: UK

When: March 2017

Law stated as at: 7 April 2017

What happened:

A complaint was made about Appy’s use of the phrase “we ONLY make 100% natural, tasty and healthy products” when describing its range of fruit drinks on its website. The complainant understood that Appy’s products contained calcium lactate and glucose-fructose syrup and challenged whether or not Appy’s claim that a fruit drink range was “100% natural” could be substantiated, or if it was misleading.

In support of its claim “100% natural”, Appy stated that: (1) Calcium lactate was a salt obtained through a natural fermentation process and occurred naturally in dairy products; and (2) glucose–fructose syrup was obtained through hydrolysis of the starch contained within corn using an enzyme, Therefore, Appy considered that these were both products obtained using natural processes.

The ASA disagreed. It considered that consumers would likely understand the claim “we ONLY make 100% natural…products” to mean the ingredients had only undergone limited processing. It relied upon the Food Standards Agency’s (“FSA”) “Criteria for the use of the terms fresh, pure, natural etc. in food labelling” (revised in July 2008) which is based on research into consumer understanding of the terms “natural”, as follows:

  • The FSA criteria states that “the term ‘natural’ without qualification should be used … to describe single foods, of a traditional nature, to which nothing has been added and which have been subjected only to such processing as to render them suitable for human consumption”. However, the range of fruit drinks were not “single foods”, they were made from more than one ingredient (i.e. “compound foods) therefore the term “natural” could not be used without qualification to describe them (whether individually, or as an entire range).
  • The FSA criteria states that “compound foods…should not themselves be described directly or by implication as ‘natural’, but it is acceptable to describe such foods as ‘made from natural ingredients’ if all the ingredients meet the criteria”. However, on reviewing the production methods of the ingredients calcium lactate and glucose-fructose syrup, neither satisfied the definition of “natural” in the FSA guidelines, therefore they could not be described as “natural ingredients”.

As a result, the ASA upheld the complaint because Appy could not substantiate the claim “we ONLY make 100% natural…products” and it was therefore misleading.

Why this matters:

When advertising food products, the term “natural” can only be used in limited circumstances. For compound foods it is important that “natural” is only attributed to particular ingredients or categories of ingredients and that those ingredients have been minimally processed (if at all). Although the FSA guidance was issued in 2008 it remains current. Advertisers wishing to use the term “natural” should ensure that they comply with the guidance and hold supporting evidence for the claim.