NAD recently issued a decision in another monitoring case. (This seems like a really robust season for NAD’s own challenges — we have blogged about other recent monitoring cases here, here, and here.). The focus this time was on reduced calorie, weight loss and healthy claims. The products at issue were made by Walden Farms, maker of a large line of calorie free foods. The products were, as promised, calorie free. NAD found the claims that such products were delicious to be puffing. NAD found the natural claims made related to the products were clearly limited to a promise that the flavors were natural rather than the products as a whole because the reference to natural was always connected to mention of the flavors instead of the overall product and Walden did not use farm or other outdoor imagery that could convey a broader natural promise. So far so good. But here’s where it gets interesting.
Walden promised “when making a PB&J, switch from other brands of peanut butter loaded with sugar and almost 200 calories in just 2 level tablespoons to new Walden Farms Whipped Peanut Spread and save over 600 calories when made with Walden Farms Calorie Free Fruit Spreads.” NAD said it was fine to make a truthful calorie savings claim but here they said the math did not seem to add up. Walden explained that they did not think it was likely that consumers made a PB&J with the recommended serving size of two tablespoons of peanut butter and one tablespoon of jelly but rather than most folks preferred a more generous smear. To test this, Walden Farms asked its employees to make a PB&J to their liking. Nobody measured level tablespoons but just scooped and spread away. On average, these employees used 5 tablespoons of PB and 2 tablespoons of jelly and so if they used the Walden Farms calorie free versions of the spreads that would save 600 calories overall. NAD said a survey of employees was not sufficient to give information as to how hefty a sandwich would be made by the target audience or consumers generally.
Dismissing the relevance of using employees for substantiation testing is not new at NAD as we have blogged about before. Marketers likely should leave the office park to get evidence as to how typical consumers will use the advertised product. It is tempting to use employees because they are readily available and likely will not say no, as well as the fact that consumer products company employees are also consumers outside the job and so seem to fit the bill of a rationale test audience. But employee tests probably are not sufficiently representative of the population as a whole and can introduce bias to your test data.
NAD also took issue when Walden deduced based on the potential calorie savings that one could “lose 34 pounds in a year.” This claim was too specific for NAD to be supported by the simple calculation of calorie savings over a year from substituting Walden Products.
Walden Farms when talking about its calorie savings also used a tagline “Eat Healthy the Walden Way.” NAD found that consumers could take away that Walden products were healthy because they had no calories, fat, carbs, gluten or sugar. NAD found this was not sufficient support for a broad claim that the foods are healthy. NAD said Walden could explain that people could become healthier by reducing calories but recommended discontinuing the general unqualified healthy claim. It was interesting that NAD did not cite to the FDA’s definition of healthy for use in food labeling, which requires foods to be low in fat and saturated fat, with limited amounts of sodium and cholesterol plus at least ten percent of the daily recommended value of Vitamin A, C, iron protein, fiber, or calcium. But clearly NAD believes that a “healthy” claim when used with foods can be understood differently by different people and so more detail is needed to ground the claim with the intended context. Given that the FTC is still very focused on substantiation for food and supplement health claims, the class action bar remains very active in this area and competitors are also watchdogs in policing comparative food claims, this is an area where marketers should exercise a healthy dose of caution.