The year 2020 saw a continued increase in businesses offering vegan and vegetarian products and it is a trend likely to continue. Alongside animal welfare, research shows consumers making commitments to campaigns like “Veganuary” often cite health and environmental concerns among their motivations, but these do not always translate to appropriate claims in marketing communications.
Not a sausage?
Advertising should always be clear about what a product is so as not to mislead consumers. The ASA has accepted descriptors such as “meat-free chicken pieces” on the basis that consumers are likely to understand that the claim refers to a meat-free product. This means describing meat-free products as burgers, nuggets or similar is also likely to be acceptable so long as the ad makes clear what the product is.
However, advertisers should be careful not to overstate when making claims for non-animal-derived alternatives. In January 2020 the ASA investigated ads for Burger King’s “Rebel Whopper” that claimed “plant-based burger” and “100% WHOPPER. NO BEEF”, when the patty was cooked alongside meat products and the finished burger contained egg mayonnaise. Taking everything into account, the ASA considered that the ads’ copy, green colour palette and the publication during “Veganuary” were likely to contribute to the impression that the product was suitable for vegans and vegetarians, when this was not the case.
Pig out, get healthy?
When advertisers make health claims for vegetarian or vegan products, only health claims authorised in the EU Register are permitted and advertisers must hold evidence that the product meets the conditions of use for any claims (e.g. it has a sufficient quantity or proportion of a certain ingredient). Health claims based solely on the fact that a product or ingredient is not derived from animals will not be acceptable. If advertisers want to make generic health claims, for example “a healthier choice”, they must be accompanied by an authorised health claim.
For more information about food health claims see here.
It’s not that easy being green
Advertisers must hold robust evidence to support environmental claims and this means the full lifecycle of the product must be taken into account when making such claims. The ASA accepted claims in an ad for an almond milk that switching to a plant-based diet would reduce consumers’ impact on the environment, after complainants cited concerns that the ad exaggerated the environmental benefits of the product because of the water consumption involved in almond production. The advertiser was able to show that the almonds in their product were sourced in regions of Spain not encumbered by drought. The evidence they provided showed they had collaborated with an academic study to design and analyse the supply chain and showed the ASA that the product’s lifecycle from farming to transportation and finally to retail gave favourable results compared to data for cow’s milk production both in the UK and abroad.
For more information about environmental claims see here.
For advertising that seeks to highlight issues of animal welfare advertisers should be mindful about the rules on harm and offence. Further information about this can be found in our Advice Online articles on Animals and Offence: General.