‘Dull’ health claims lead many to miss £27bn market

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

More flexibility for health claims wording will benefit the industry and consumers: nutritionists
More flexibility for health claims wording will benefit the industry and consumers: nutritionists

Related tags: Health claims, Nutrition

Thousands of European food and drink firms are missing out on the £27bn global functional food market because of restrictive health claims wording, leading nutritionists have complained.

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) guidance for the labelling of approved products with health claims was dull and difficult for firms to use on products, according to dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton.

Dull wording also put consumers off buying products and prevented them from gaining the benefits of functional food and drinks, Ruxton told a Food and Drink Innovation Network conference on Nutrition in London earlier this month.

This was especially troublesome as many European and UK consumers had poor diets and health, she added.

Diets higher than ever in fat’

“We’ve got diets higher than ever in fat, salt and sugar. Consumers are taking in too many calories and it’s a worry,” ​she said.

There were many health-boosting products on supermarket shelves, but consumers weren’t noticing them because the claims were dull or meant nothing to them, Ruxton added.

Another nutritionist, who asked not to be named, agreed with Ruxton and said: “EFSA-approved health claims make it hard for firms to create exciting wording on functional food products.”

Leading nutritionist:

“We need to change the wording if consumers are to benefit from the claims. What does something like ‘supports the normal function of the immune system’ mean to a consumer anyway?”

Products that could make a claim about benefitting the immune system, for example, had to be labelled with something such as “’playing a role in the normal function of the immune system,’ which is dry”​, he added.

What food manufacturers wanted to do was, without misleading consumers, make more exciting claims about their products to boost sales, the nutritionist claimed.

EFSA approved wording was “uninspiring”​ and didn’t engage consumers enough to make them pick up functional products, he added.

‘We need to change the wording’

“We need to change the wording if consumers are to benefit from the claims. What does something like ‘supports the normal function of the immune system’ mean to a consumer anyway?”​ the nutritionist said.

Nobody from EFSA was unavailable for comment at the time of publication, however, EFSA's Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) had been asked by EFSA to revise its guidance on the scientific requirements for health claims related to gut and immune function last year. The panel’s findings are expected to be published later this year.

Although the revision will mostly focus on the process of health claims authorisation, some in the industry hope health claims wording will also be revised at the same time.

Meanwhile, a legal expert in health claims told FoodManufacture.co.uk last year that the Advertising Standards Agency’s policing of EU health claims​ offered a “ray of light” ​for food firms looking to use them in advertising.

Firms would be more successful in making claims about a product’s ‘health benefits’ by using imagery instead of words in advertisements, Eversheds senior partner Owen Warnock claimed.

Health claims in figures:

  • £27bn – the current value of the global function foods market
  • £47bn – the predicted growth of the global function foods market by 2018
  • 570 – the number of published scientific opinions related to health claims
  • 1924/2006 – the EU regulation governing health claims in Europe

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