The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has upheld complaints that adverts for Kellogg’s ‘wholesome’ cookies were misleading and implied that the snacks were healthier than they actually are.
The Kellogg’s poster and press adverts for its Nutri-Grain Soft Oaties was headlined "wholesome cookie goodness” with text that said: "Made with oats & wheat, source of fibre, 6 B vitamins & iron. Enjoy as part of a healthy balanced diet & lifestyle."
But the watchdog Which? and two members of the public complained in December this misleadingly implied the cookies were healthier than the reality and were a snack beneficial to health, when they were actually high in sugar, fat and saturated fat.
Food advertising, particularly to children, is coming under increasing scrutiny from watchdogs.
A spokeswoman for Kellogg’s told FoodNavigator.com that the ASA agreed they had made no factually incorrect claims, but the issue was about where companies place their emphasis on adverts.
She said that Kellogg's had made it clear it was advertising a cookie, not a healthier snack, but it wanted to draw attention to the beneficial ingredients as well.
She added: “Consumers are not stupid. They know that biscuits do not on their own benefit your health.
“It is a sweet treat but with a little bit extra.”
Kellogg’s said Nutri-Grain Soft Oaties were made with cereal grains and contained 3.5 g of fibre per 100g, meaning that they could help people "top up" their fibre, B vitamin and iron intakes while snacking.
In addition, all the Oaties came in single serve packs and carried clear Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) information for the ingredients, providing “transparent nutritional information”.
The ASA noted that that the product contained sufficient quantities of fibre, B vitamins and iron to comply with regulations for nutrition claims and the products were made from oats and wheat as stated.
However, it said Soft Oaties were also high in sugar, fat and saturated fat.
Therefore, by referring only to ingredients that could convey a nutritional benefit - without also referring to those that might have a negative impact on health - the ad could imply the snack was wholly beneficial to health or that the Soft Oaties with Oat & Chocolate Chip were healthier than they were.
It also found the headlines could enhance this impression and ruled that the adverts must not appear again in their current form.
Clare Corbett, Which? food campaigner welcomed the decision but said it came too late as the ad campaign had already finished.
She added: “It is unacceptable for businesses to describe food packed with sugar and fat as healthy or wholesome.”
The obesity debate
Which? recently rounded on Kellogg’s and other food manufacturers for using cartoon characters to market foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children.
The watchdog said that robust food promotion restrictions were needed because of the high levels of child obesity in the UK. Almost 30 per cent under-16-year-olds are obese or overweight.
Kellogg’s has backed the Department of Health’s new Change4Life anti-obesity initiative, pledging £300,000 over three years to encourage youngsters to eat a healthy breakfast, and another £240,000 a year supporting the Swim4Life programme.
Food advertising, particularly to children, is coming under increasing scrutiny from watchdogs. Last month, manufacturers were asked to take some responsibility for public health and make more nutritional products after a study found that magazine adverts were mainly for foods high in sugar, fat and salt.
A study published in the European Journal of Public Health found that the types of products advertised did not reflect a balanced diet as healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables made up only a fraction of the adverts.
Television advertising is on the decrease however, with a report from the UK’s Department of Health (DoH) showing a 46 per cent in the annual spend on food and drink advertising to children between 2003 and 2007.