The Spanish advertising authority, Autocontrol, has accused Unilever of misleading advertisement of its Flora pro-activ spread by failing to include a statement stipulating target audience and conditions of consumption of the cholesterol-lowering product as required by European law. The company maintains its advertisement is in line with regulation.
Spanish advertising standards body, Autocontrol, urged the company to rectify the newspaper advertisement to meet the legal requirements set by article two of the European Commission rule 608/2004 which relates to the labelling of food and food ingredients containing phytosterols, phytosterol esters, phytostanols or phytostanol esters. However the company said that its communication is in line with legislation.
The complaint came just after the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency ordered the company to pull two television adverts for the same product on the grounds that its claim that it is clinically proven to significantly lower cholesterol and that no other food can lower cholesterol more went beyond the wording of the EU-approved health claim for plant sterols.
In this later case , which was filed against Unilever España by the Asociación de Usuarios de la Comunicación (Communication Users’ Association) at the end of October, the complaints concern the omission of a required statement explaining that the product is intended exclusively for people who want to lower their blood cholesterol level.
According to the Official Journal of the European Union: “The purpose of this mandatory statement is to ensure that the product reaches its target group, and thus avoid unnecessary consumption by non-targeted groups.”
Autocontrol said that the company had failed to stipulate that the product is designed specifically for people who want to lower their cholesterol, that patients taking cholesterol-lowering medication cholesterol should only consume the product after seeking medical advice and that the product may not be nutritionally appropriate for pregnant or breastfeeding women or children under five years.
In addition the organisation said that the company should have but did not communicate that the product should be consumed as part of a balanced and varied diet including regular consumption of fruits and vegetables to help maintain carotenoid levels and that consumption of more than 3g per day of plant stanols or sterols should be avoided.
Responding to the complaints, Unilever said that the mandatory statements are only required in the labelling of products with added plant stanols and sterols, not in their advertising. It said that this meant Unilever's communication is in line with the applicable legislation.
The firm told NutraIngredients that two of the three challenges presented were dismissed by Autocontrol. Adam Fisher, senior corporate media relations manager at the company, said: "Relating to the challenge on the percentage reduction above the 10%, the values of cholesterol reduction are rigorously verified and the established range of 7%-10% are visible in all Flora pro activ campaign material except, due to human error, in a single printed advertisement subject of this challenge. However, the correct range has been communicated on our website www.retoproactiv.com that was referred to in the printed advertising."
Bound to make changes
Sara Gil, director of communication for Autocontrol, told NutraIngredients that Unilever is a member of Autocontrol and so decisions from the authority’s advertising jury are “binding”, which means members should either pull the advertisement or make the necessary changes.
“In this specific case, the Jury urged the company (Unilever) to rectify the claimed advertisement to meet the legal requirements set by the aforementioned EU Rule,” she said.