The National Advertising Review Board (NARB) is the appeals division of the advertising industry’s self-regulatory system. The Heartland Sweeteners case was referred to NARB after the company disagreed with an initial decision from the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council for Better Business Bureaus, which is the first point of call for reviewing advertising statements.
The advertising watchdog took up the case after receiving a complaint from Merisant Company, a rival to Heartland in the sweetener market.
Heartland’s Ideal sweetener is made from a combination of xylitol, a sugar alcohol, Unidex, a corn-derived dextrose filler, and sucralose, an artificial sweetener that is around 600 times sweeter than sugar.
By weight, sucralose accounts for less than one percent of the sweetener, but it is responsible for about 80 percent of its sweetness, the panel found.
The NARB panel said: “Ideal is advertised and sold as a sweetener, and reasonable consumers will perceive the ‘more than 99 percent natural’ message as relating to Ideal’s sweetness and not it’s formulation of ingredients by weight.”
The panel said it agreed with NAD that one of the messages conveyed by Heartland’s claim is that all or virtually all of Ideal’s sweetness comes from natural ingredients.
It also took issue with Heartland’s suggestion in its advertising that Ideal is more natural than other sweeteners.
Heartland Sweeteners said it “respectfully disagrees with the NARB's decision and maintains that its ‘more than 99 percent natural’ claim is clear, truthful and not misleading.”
However, the company added that it was in the process of reviewing its advertising and packaging and will take the panel’s decision into account, “because it supports advertising self-regulation”.
‘Natural’ was the most popular label claim for new products last year, according to market research organization Mintel. According to its Global New Products Database, it appeared on 23 percent of new food and beverage products launched in 2009.
But the word is problematic from a regulatory standpoint, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a definition for ‘natural’, meaning that companies can generally decide for themselves whether their product can credibly carry such a claim.