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NAD review challenges Gerber over ‘immune support’ and ‘natural’ claims

By Elaine Watson, 20-Jan-2012

Related topics: Fruit, vegetable, nut ingredients, Food labeling and marketing, Natural claims, Markets

Industry-backed ad watchdog the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (NAD) has taken issue with Gerber over its use of the terms ‘natural’ and ‘immune support’ on products for toddlers.

However, it rejected the bulk of the criticisms leveled at the firm by rival Beech-Nut about claims made in ads for Gerber’s Graduate Healthy Meals and Lil’ Entrees.

Following a review of the ads, NAD concluded that Gerber’s claims about its “unique and innovative” nutrition system were substantiated, along with the claims: ‘Only Graduates Lil’ Entrees is designed just for toddlers…’ and 'Gerber Graduates Healthy Meals are the only meals designed for preschoolers with protein and a full serving of veggies’.

Immune support claim ‘goes beyond a mere structure/function claim’

However, a commercial featuring whole fruits and vegetables disappearing into a bag of Melts conveyed an “unsupported message that Gerber’s Melts were nutritionally equivalent to whole fruits and vegetables”, said NAD, which recommended that Gerber discontinue the ad.

It also recommended Gerber stop claiming that its products provide ‘natural immune support’ or are made from ‘100% natural fruit’ given that they contain synthetic vitamins – which did not tally with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance that ‘natural’ should only be used on products containing nothing “artificial or synthetic”.

It said: “NAD was concerned that consumers would take away a message that the product is ‘all natural’ i.e. lacking in any synthetic ingredients.”

NAD also recommended that Gerber should discontinue or modify its immune support claim "by making clear that its immunity-related benefit relates to the products’ capacity to ensure or maintain a healthy immune system by maintaining adequate levels of Vitamins A, C, and E”.

It added: “NAD determined that this claim [immune support] goes beyond a mere ‘structure/function’ claim… Just as Kellogg Company erred by claiming that its cereal supported children’s immunity, Gerber should not make this claim about its various baby foods.”

Gerber ‘respectfully disagrees’ with conclusions – but agrees certain changes

Gerber said it was “pleased that NAD found most of the challenged claims to be truthful and accurate”, but said it “respectfully disagrees with NAD regarding the visual and audio elements of Gerber’s television commercial for Fruit & Veggie Melts”.

However, it noted: “This advertisement no longer is running and Gerber will take NAD’s recommendation into account in future iterations.”

As for the ‘natural’ claims: “Although Gerber disagrees with the NAD that ‘made with 100% natural fruit’ conveys that the product contains no artificial ingredients, it will take NAD’s recommendations into account to make more clear that only the fruit ingredients, as opposed to all others, are natural.

“Finally, although Gerber also respectfully disagrees with NAD’s conclusion that the claim to provide ‘immune support’ goes beyond a permissible structure/function claim, it will follow NAD’s recommendation and modify its future advertising.”

Natural definitions

The FDA has yet to establish a formal definition for the term 'natural' on food labels but follows a 1993 policy that states: “[FDA] has not objected to the use of the term [natural] on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.”

However, the majority of manufacturers recently polled by FoodNavigator-USA said a more formal definition of ‘natural’ would help ensure the term is used more consistently in food labeling and marketing.

Click here to see the results.