Bypassing health claims regulation, a growing temptation for probiotics marketersby Martin Macouzet, Ph. D. on 12/04/12
Given the difficulties associated with the approval of health claims, certain companies have found a way to imply a health benefit without having to pass through the approval process. Although the original intention of these companies might not have been to deceive consumers, the implicit evocation of the health benefit could actually mislead certain consumers even more. Once considered original and ingenious, some of these approaches are now frowned upon and therefore not recommended as ethical means of communicating potential health benefits.
At the Institute for the Development of Probiotic Food Products, we have identified some of these controversial measures and we have analysed its pertinence. Among the typical examples of these tactics is the renaming of probiotic strains to give them suggestive Latinised names (discussed in a previous post). Another classical example is challenging consumers to demonstrate an undetermined health effect, such as the “try it for two weeks and get your money back if you don’t feel the change”, which is misleading if not accompanied with a clear health claim statement.
Evocation of a potential health benefit through the use of images is one of the most widely used and delicate tactics with the potential of bypassing health claims. Indeed, pictures and graphics can convey a health benefit message as well as and often better than any written claim. However, without the accompanying claim in direct language, an image may be misinterpreted by consumers.
International regulatory standards clearly indicate that implying a health benefit through the use of images is to be considered a health claim, however; the point at which an image becomes effective is very subjective and therefore difficult to regulate and control. While written claims can be controlled through authorisation of exact wording on labels and advertising, the possibilities for images are infinite and any subtle evocation of the intended health benefit could easily be introduced into marketing campaigns. Regrettably, evocation of health claims through images is now omnipresent in the functional food market, and its negative consequences may be imminent.
These are just some of the persuasive tactics that some have used and others are willing to adopt. For those exploring the most suitable strategy, I have a recommendation: avoid temptation! There are legitimate approaches to communicate health benefits to consumers even without having an authorized health claim.
Reference: Macouzet, M. 2012. Alternatives for communicating the health benefits of probiotics. Probiotic Intelligentsia 1(2):15-27