Claims that vitamin products are made with “26 fruits and vegetables” should be discontinued because the products contained only the powdered form and not whole fruits and vegetables, the National Advertising Division, the investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation, recommended.

Several claims for Nature’s Way Brands, LLC’s “Alive!” vitamin products were challenged by competitor Bayer HealthCare LLC, a manufacturer of a competing line of multivitamins. Although some of the claims withstood the self-regulatory body’s scrutiny (such as “Superior Potency – 100%+ daily value of 20 vitamins/minerals”), others did not fare as well.

The “26 fruits and vegetables” claim, which appeared in print and television ads accompanied by visual images of whole fruits and vegetables, was most troubling for the NAD. The overall net impression “reasonably conveys the message that Alive! multivitamins are made with whole fruits and vegetables and/or that the vitamins and minerals contained in Alive! are sourced from real fruits and vegetables rather than synthetic sources,” according to the decision. In fact, the multivitamins contain 50 mg powered juice from 14 different fruits and 50 mg powdered juice from 12 different vegetables. The NAD noted that it is undisputed that these blends are not the equivalent of eating whole fruits and vegetables.

Consumers typically purchase multivitamins to improve or sustain their health, the NAD noted, and could “reasonably believe that the added fruits and vegetables (or naturally sourced vitamins and minerals) provide a health benefit above and beyond the traditional vitamins and minerals that comprise most multivitamins.”

The NAD recommended that the advertiser modify the claims to avoid the unsupported claim that the multivitamins are sourced from fruits and vegetables. Alternatively, if the visual depictions of fruits and vegetables remain on the packaging, the NAD recommended that a clear and conspicuous disclaimer be used to indicate that the product is not made with whole fruits and vegetables.

The NAD also objected to assertions that Alive! could boost energy because of the inclusion of Vitamin B (by claiming that “Alive! is nutrition you can feel!” and “high potency B-vitamins for energy”). Concerned that consumers could take away the message that the multivitamins provide “a literally palpable energy boost” akin to a caffeine stimulant, the decision said even the use of humor and whimsy couldn’t save the Nature’s Way television ads, where campy music played while actors hyperactively sang and danced. “While consumers probably wouldn’t expect themselves to burst into song, they could reasonably assume that they would receive a boost akin to the type of energy depicted in the commercial,” the NAD wrote.

In addition to finding that the advertiser had a reasonable basis to support its “Superior Potency” claim, the NAD found the claims “nothing beats feeling Alive!” and “there’s nothing like feeling Alive!” were mere puffery and therefore required no substantiation.

To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here

Why it matters: Health claims continue to be subject to strict scrutiny both at the NAD as well as the FTC. This decision reinforces that health claims could be implied from the overall context of the ad. Nature’s Way’s use of visual imagery in conjunction with the “26 fruits and vegetables” claim serves as a reminder that advertisers should consider the express words and visual images as a whole when deciding whether any express or implied claims are substantiated.