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Navigating the Legal Minefield of Food Advertising

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Navigating the Legal Minefield of Food Advertising

Navigating the Legal Minefield of Food Advertising
June 06
07:48 2016

Alison Bryce cropWith the Committee of Advertising Practice now considering extending the prohibition on advertising unhealthy foods to children, it seems it is only a matter of time before already restrictive rules are tightened.

Alison Bryce discusses the tightrope that catering and hospitality firms must walk in if they venture into the area of food-and-soft-drinks advertising.

What is the current state of the law on advertising?

Governed by the CAP and BCAP codes for broadcast and non-broadcast advertising, advertising in the UK is policed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Containing both general and specific rules relating to food and soft drinks, the general principle of the codes is that advertisements must not mislead consumers.

For food and soft drink products, only nutritional claims contained on an official EU list may be used to describe a food product. These approved claims also contain criteria for their use so that, for instance, a product may only be described as ‘low fat’ where it contains no more than 3g of fat per 100g for solids, or 1.5g of fat per 100ml for liquids.

Similarly, EU legislation on health claims sets out what is authorised in terms of claimed relationships between food and health. Significantly, general health claims such as ‘good for you’, ‘wholesome’ or ‘superfood’ cannot now be used, unless accompanied by a specific health claim set out in the legislation.

What happens to brands that breach the codes?

If found to be in breach of the CAP or BCAP code, the ASA may rule that an advert must be withdrawn, and such rulings often result in negative publicity and reduced sales; often, it can highlight that the product may not be what its owners hoped to portray it as.

Food and drink advertising is closely scrutinised, so businesses involved in this sector must therefore ensure they stay on top of developments or face the possibility that their advertising campaigns could backfire.

Do the rules only apply to outright claims?

No, implied claims will also be considered by the ASA where relevant, and the context of the advertisement will be used in assessing whether a misleading nutritional claim has been made. For example, an ad for Jaffa Cakes included the claim that each cake contained only 1g of fat. This was accurate, but because Jaffa Cakes contained 8g of fat per 100g, the ad’s overall message was held to be misleading.

What extra rules apply when advertising to children, and what is changing?

In order to combat the rising problem of childhood obesity, the codes contain stringent rules relating to advertising food and soft drinks to under-16s. These include rules relating to promotional offers, the use of licensed characters and celebrities, and pressure to purchase; commonly referred to as ‘pester power’.

TV ads for products which are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) aimed at under-16s are already banned, and the Committee of Advertising Practice has just announced that it is considering extending that ban to all other forms of advertising media.

That said, the consultation is also considering whether the restrictions on advertising healthier food to children may be relaxed, to allow for use of promotions, licensed characters and celebrities in healthy food ads.


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Catering Scotland

Catering Scotland

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