Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
Two websites for the 'Neverstick' and 'Neverstick 2' pans, all seen on 23 January 2018:
a. The website www.eaziglide.com, stated "Neverstick 2, Super Strong Non Stick - 7 times stronger than other non-sticks".
b. The website www.scoville.me, stated "Neverstick super strong non-stick - 5 times stronger than other non-sticks", and "Neverstick 2 - 7 times stronger than other non-sticks".
Group SEB UK challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. the Neverstick 2 pan is seven times stronger than other non-stick frying pans; and
2. the Neverstick pan is 5 times stronger than other non-sticks.
3. They also challenged whether the claims were verifiable.
1., 2. & 3. Imperial International Ltd stated that they had arranged independent testing on 28 non-stick pans, one of which was their Neverstick pan and one was their Neverstick 2 pan. They provided us with a copy of their test results which they believed substantiated their comparative claims. They said they held further material which they believed substantiated the claims, but were not prepared to disclose it due to its commercially sensitive nature.
Imperial International stated that the average consumer would not have understood the scientific testing that was carried out on their pans, so in order to verify the claims they developed their own wording to make it clearer for consumers on their packaging and on their dedicated product websites. The text stated “What do we mean by 5 times stronger? We’re very proud of the special non-stick system we developed for our Neverstick collections - but what does ‘5 times stronger’ and ‘7 times stronger’ mean? By ‘stronger’ we refer to our Neverstick product’s ability to retain its amazing non-stick brilliance for much longer than our competitors through normal domestic use. We have carried out independent laboratory abrasing testing to assess not only our Neverstick coatings, but also pans from multiple product ranges from 15 different manufacturers, including ones from our largest competitors. In the testing, an abrasive pad was used to scratch the surface of the pans until bare metal was visible (known in our industry as a “dry reciprocating abrasion test”). The strongest competitor product that was tested lasted only 4,897 cycles, whereas our Neverstick coating lasted over a massive 25,000 cycles and our Neverstick2 coating lasted over 75,000 cycles. It’s based on the results of the strongest competitor non-stick pan that we derived our terms ‘5 times stronger’ and ‘7 times stronger’ than other non-sticks”.
1. & 2 Upheld
The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the claims “7 times stronger than other non-sticks" and “5 times stronger than other non-sticks" in ads (a) and (b) as comparisons between the performance of the Neverstick2 and Neverstick pans and other non-stick pans on the cookware market. In context, we considered the word “stronger” would be understood to relate to the product’s ability to retain its non-stick capability when used for its intended purpose of cooking.
Imperial International provided results from an unidentified independent laboratory of an abrasion test known as the dry reciprocating abrasion test (dry RAT) to assess the point at which 10% of the pan’s underlying layer was exposed. This was completed at room temperature, using an abrasive pad which was changed every 1,000 cycles and with the pad travelling at a speed of 60 strokes per minute.
We understood that throughout its life cycle, a pan would come into close contact with objects, such as kitchen utensils and other cooking implements, which could cause a pan’s non-stick capability to deteriorate, and that cleaning and stacking and storage alongside other cookware items might also have an effect. With that in mind, we considered that testing which involved an abrasive pad that scratched at the pan’s surface until it exposed a proportion of the pan’s underlying layer was an appropriate method to measure its strength.
The Neverstick and the Neverstick2 pans had been tested, together with 26 other non-stick pans available on the cookware market. Those pans were produced by 15 different manufacturers, including all of the major competitors. The test results showed the Neverstick2 pan withstood 75,422 strokes, that the Neverstick pan withstood 25,386 and that the highest number of strokes withstood by a competitor was 4,897. Whilst we considered the testing conducted by Imperial International to be a suitable method of assessing the performance of the Neverstick pans alongside their competitors, we had been given no explanation as to why their pans had out-performed the others so significantly. We noted Imperial’s contention that this information was too commercially sensitive to divulge.
We noted that the complainant Groupe SEB had completed their own testing, which comprised a non-stick performance test, whereby the amount of time taken to remove burnt milk from a pan was measured and scored, and a resistance to scratches test, which was of similar nature to the test carried out by Imperial International. Groupe SEB also commissioned independent resistance to scratch testing which again followed the same methodology. Groupe SEB’s testing was done on both the Neverstick and Neverstick2 pans and one of their own pans (which had not been tested by Imperial International). The results showed that Groupe SEB’s pan withstood 48,000 strokes, whereas the Neverstick and Neverstick2 withstood 1,000 and 10,000 respectively. In the independent test, the results were 48,000 strokes for their own pan and 3,000 for the Neverstick2. We did not accept that Groupe SEB’s testing was superior to that conducted by Imperial, but given the apparently similar methodology it did call into question the results obtained by Imperial.
Because we had been given no explanation as to how the Neverstick pans outperformed their competitors’ pans so significantly in Imperial International’s testing, and given the discrepancy in test results noted above, we concluded that the claims “5 times stronger than other non-sticks" and “7 times stronger than other non-sticks" had not been substantiated and were likely to mislead.
On those points, ads (a) and (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. and 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Misleading advertising).
The CAP Code required that comparisons with identifiable competitors were verifiable. This meant that an ad which featured a comparison with an identifiable competitor or competitors needed to include, or direct a consumer to, sufficient information to allow them to understand the comparison, and be able to check the claims were accurate, or ask someone suitably qualified to do so. We considered that consumers would understand the claims to be a direct comparison between the pans’ non-stick capability and that of their competitors and that the claims therefore needed to be verifiable.
We acknowledged the explanation developed by Imperial International, whichthey believed allowed consumers to understand the methodology behind the testing in a clear way. We did not consider that explanation was sufficient for the claims to be verified. In particular no further detail about the equipment used or the competitor pans tested was made available to enable the tests to be repeated. Most notably, however, no explanation had been provided in the ad at the time it appeared, nor did it include a signpost to the necessary information. For that reason, we concluded that the comparative claims in the ad were not verifiable.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.35 3.35 They must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products, which may include price. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Imperial International to ensure that they held adequate substantiation for comparative performance claims in future, and that such claims were verifiable.