The New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority has recently decided that Fonterra made several misleading claims on its website about the benefits of dairy.

This decision is a useful reminder about the potential risks of making absolute claims. Absolute claims are unqualified claims that often include words such as: best, pure, vital, essential, every and all. These claims must always be accurate. If the claim is not always accurate, the claim will be misleading.

The complaint to the ASA was over five claims made on Fonterra's website. Two claims were held to be misleading.

One of the claims was that "dairy is an essential food group and a vital component of a balanced, nutritious diet". The ASA decided that this claim was an absolute claim and meant that any balanced diet must contain dairy. The argument by the complainant was that all essential nutrients can also be obtained from well-planned vegan diets that contain no dairy products.

To mitigate the absolute nature of the claim, Fonterra suggested changing the claim to "dairy is an important food group" rather than an essential food group. The ASA decided that although changing the word "essential" to "important" met the requirements of the Code for Advertising Food, the continued use of the word "vital" was still potentially misleading as it could not be substantiated.

The complaint was also about a claim that calcium from dairy is absorbed faster than any other source. The complainant provided evidence that calcium from other products is more absorbable than calcium from dairy milk, cheese, or yoghurt. Fonterra stood by its claim and also provided evidence to support it. However, the ASA simply stated that the claim had not been adequately substantiated by Fonterra and agreed that it was likely to mislead the consumer.

What can you learn from this?

Be careful making absolute claims. These claims must always be accurate. If there is an exception that means the claim is not accurate in all cases, then the claim will be misleading.

You will also need robust evidence to substantiate your claim.