A poster ad for Go Ahead Goodness bars, seen in August 2017, stated that the Go Ahead Goodness Bar was “CRAMMED WITH 100% NATURAL INGREDIENTS”.
The complainant, who believed the product contained ingredients which would not be understood as “natural” by consumers, challenged whether the claim "100% NATURAL INGREDIENTS” was misleading and could be substantiated.
United Biscuits t/a Go Ahead responded that the term “natural” for foods was not written into regulation, However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had published guidance in 2008 on the use of certain marketing terms including “natural”. They said that meant that, providing the ingredients were not chemically altered or produced using new technologies, the ingredients could be classified as “natural”.
Go Ahead provided a list of ingredients in their Go Ahead Goodness bars and stated those ingredients were made in a traditional manner and were typical of ingredients normally found in consumers’ store cupboards. They recognised that the ingredients sunflower oil and fat reduced cocoa powder did undergo a degree of processing. However, those processes had existed for many years and were therefore not new technologies. They stated that the processes involved rendering the edible elements of the plants to food ingredients suitable for human consumption.
Go Ahead provided details of the processes involved in making sunflower oil and fat reduced cocoa powder. They stated that sunflower seeds were crushed to release the oil and then refined and de-odorised. They stated the modern day production of sunflower oil made use of some level of solvent extraction. However, they considered the average consumer would still consider sunflower oil to be a natural ingredient. They stated that they believed consumers would understand there would be some level of processing in order to obtain edible oil from the sunflower seed.
The fat reduced cocoa powder was created by sorting, cleaning, inspecting and roasting cocoa beans to make chocolate liquor. The liquor was then washed with a potassium carbonate solution to reduce their acidity and make them less bitter to taste. The liquor was then pressed and crushed to make the cocoa powder. They stated that the process of washing the liquor with potassium carbonate was a traditional ‘Dutch process’ which had been used for over 100 years.
They stated that both cocoa powder and sunflower oil were readily found in consumers’ store cupboards and were therefore likely to be considered natural to the average consumer. They noted that their competitors used these ingredients in similar products making similar claims.
The ASA considered that consumers would understand the term “natural” in the context of the claim “100% natural ingredients” to mean the product was made using ingredients that were completely natural. We considered consumers would understand that some processing may need to take place in order to make a naturally found ingredient fit for human consumption, but that such processing would be minimal. We referred to the FSA’s “Criteria for the use of the terms fresh, pure, natural etc. in food labelling”, which was based on research into consumer understanding of the term “natural” which stated that the products described as natural should be made using ingredients produced by nature and not the work of man or interfered with by man, and which had only been subjected to such processing as to render them suitable for human consumption.
We understood that refining processes to extract sunflower oil from sunflower seeds generally involved the use of solvents, and we noted the FSA Guidance stated that “processes such as … solvent extraction … are not in line with current consumer expectations of ’natural’, and so if used then products should not be referred to as natural food or ingredients”. We also understood that the process used to create fat reduced cocoa powder involved the addition of potassium carbonate solution (an alkaline solution), to make the ingredient less bitter to taste. We considered that the addition of the potassium carbonate solution was not therefore a necessary step in order to render a food found in nature fit for human consumption. In addition the FSA Guidance stated that “acid or alkali treatment” was not in line with consumer expectations of “natural”. We acknowledged that the processes used to manufacture sunflower oil and reduced fat cocoa powder may have existed for a long time, however, we considered that the longevity of such processes would not alter the consumer understanding of whether a product processed in that way was natural or not.
For those reasons, we considered that neither sunflower oil nor fat reduced cocoa powder would be understood by consumers to be “natural” ingredients. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 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. (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told United Biscuits Ltd not to refer to ingredients as natural unless they were in line with consumer expectations of the term “natural”.