Premier Foods complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about two adverts that appeared in a catering magazine.
The adverts featured pictures of a tub and sachet of gravy granules respectively, above a headline which stated 'unbeatable taste vs. Bisto*'. Smaller text below the headline stated: 'KNORR has unbeatable scores for taste, appearance, consistency and aroma when tested'.
Smallprint at the bottom of the advert linked the asterisk-starred text to its source: '*Partner Research Jan-April 2010'.
Premier Foods challenged the ads on three counts, two of which the ASA upheld in an adjudication delivered on June 1.
The advertising watchdog agreed that the adverts were misleading, and that they did not make it clear how consumers could verify comparisons via the research stated in the ads.
The ASA noted that 62 chefs had been surveyed and asked to taste three products: Knorr Gravy Granules for meat dishes (Knorr), Bisto Gravy Granules (Bisto) and a third product, not referred to in the ad.
Over half of the respondents had ranked the third-party product first and, of the remaining chefs, fractionally more had ranked Knorr first than had Bisto.
In addition, the data captured by researchers showed a lower score for Knorr than Bisto in the aroma category.
Responding to the ASA on the comparative claim issue, Unilever said that whilst their product ranked above Bisto's on overall opinion, they were conscious that the scores were quite close and did not show a statistically significant preference for Knorr.
Therefore, the firm said it chose the parity claim 'unbeatable vs. Bisto' rather than a superiority claim, and provided relevant survey extracts confidentially to the ASA to try and substantiate its claims.
But the watchdog disagreed, and Paul Carr, head of business development - foodservice and B2B at Premier Foods welcomed its decision, "which means that Unilever is no longer able to run the misleading advertisements. Bisto continues to be chosen by chefs for its versatility not only as complete gravy but also as a savoury base to which they can add their own signature."