ASA: Chia and flax ad should be ‘super-seeded’

General 'superfood' health claims must be backed by clear authorised health claims, rules UK Advertising Standards Agency.

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld four complaints about the implied health claims of Bioglan ‘superfood’ chia and flax seeds.

The complainant challenged whether the television advert complied with the EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims (EU Register) with its use of the word 'superfood' and comparisons made to demonstrate the seeds’ protein, calcium and fibre content.

ASA concluded that the firm behind the whole food brand, PharmaCare, was within its right to present the seeds as sources of the nutrients, and make reference to the relative health claims for which these components were approved. However it said it considered the multiple allusions to the word "superfood" to reference general, non-specific benefits of the food for overall health, and therefore this needed to be accompanied by a specific authorised health claim – and that instead too much focus had been put on contrasts with incomparable food products.

Have you discovered the power of a Bioglan superfood?

The advert began with retired England rugby player Matt Dawson asking: "Have you discovered the power of a Bioglan superfood that you can add to your diet every day? It's highly nutritious”. The separate voice-over then said: "Just add Bioglan superfood chia and flax seed to your breakfast to get: as much protein as a small egg: more calcium than 100ml of milk; as much fibre as a cup of oats, and a high source of the Omega 3 fatty acid, ALA."

This was accompanied by images of the comparative foods, and text stating: "Protein + Calcium + Fibre + Omega 3". Additional, smaller text stated: "Based on a 25g serving. Calcium helps maintain normal bones. 2g/day of ALA contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels".

Complaint upheld

ASA said that the firm had not exaggerated the authorised wording of claims around calcium and ALA. It said that since a normal 25 g serving of the product contained 41.2% of the recommended daily allowance for ALA and 20% for calcium, this was sufficient for the nutrition claims made.

However it added: “We considered that in order for the meaning of general ‘superfood’ health claim to be understandable to viewers, the accompanying specific health claims (the specific references to calcium and ALA) would need to be presented in such a way that it was clear that they accompanied that general health claim.”

It said that while authorised claims were added at the bottom of the screen, the main emphasis of the ad seemed to be the off-screen voice’s comparisons to other foods. It said this suggested the comparative nutrition claims backed the superfood general claim – on this point the authority said the advert did not comply with the EU Register.

It added that according to EU regulation, PharmaCare would need to demonstrate that the comparative nutrition claims used were listed in the health claim Annex, and that they compared the product's nutrients to a range of foods in the same category. ASA said "breakfast foods" would not be a “sufficiently narrow category” for the purpose of making comparative nutrition claims, while foods from a more specific category such as seeds would be more appropriate.   

“We therefore considered that the claims "as much protein as a small egg", "more calcium than 100ml of milk" and "as much fibre as a cup of oats" did not comply with the EU Register and were in breach of the [ASA] code,” it said. 

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