By Cajsa Lilliehook from Portland (Chicken Noodle Soup) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
With the popularity of the eating local movement, it’s no wonder food companies want to promote when they do business with local farmers or have small batch local operations. NAD recently provided some guardrails for such claims in a case involving General Mills. Its Progresso Soups tout “Vineland, New Jersey: Home of Progresso” and “This [Vineland] i‎s where the great produce that goes into the soups is sourced.” Campbell’s asserted the claims implied that all or most of the Progresso ingredients were sourced locally in Vineland and that Progresso is a small company from rural New Jersey. Campbell’s said Progresso was owned by food giant General Mills, headquartered in Minneapolis, and the team running Progresso is in Minneapolis.

The soups identify General Mills and Minneapolis as the name and place of the business of the manufacturer under FDA regs and direct consumer inquiries to Minneapolis. Further, the challenger asserted that while some soups are made in Vineland, New Jersey, there are other facilities for soup making in Hannibal, Missouri and that non-soup Progresso products are made throughout the United States and Canada. (And while Missouri no doubt has some fine quality produce, something is lacking in touting Hannibal rather than Vineland as Progresso’s home base. Certainly for soup with fava beans.)

Campbell’s relied heavily on factors set out in an earlier NAD decision involving DraftKings (that we blogged about here for a refresher). Campbell’s highlighted the location of corporate headquarters, senior management, and operations and the address provided in consumer-facing points of contact. Campbell’s said only manufacturing was in idyllic Vineland and not all of the soup making happened there. Progresso countered that 60% of its soups harken from the (aptly named for these purposes) Garden State and this is where Progresso began. While the Progresso brand has changed corporate hands over the years, the “one constant has been the uninterrupted manufacture of soup in Vineland,” as well as product development. The largest number of Progresso employees come from Vineland. Progresso disputed that its ads, which are monadic and not comparative, do not convey any sort of local sourcing claim or suggest that Progresso is a small company. The ads simply show farm vegetables as a way of romancing the ingredients in the soup, including the speed of processing from field to can.

NAD found Progresso had support that Vineland was the “home” of Progresso based on its place of origin and the community in which it has a dominant presence, and there was no unsupported implied message that Progresso was a small company.‎ However, it was an unsupported line claim to say Vineland was “where Progresso Light soups are made” since not all are made there. NAD asked Progresso to limit such claims to the specific varieties made there. NAD also felt that some but not all of the ads conveyed an unsupported local sourcing claim, particularly those ads using the “Vineland: Home of Progresso” tagline while showing farm imagery and vegetables growing on a vine and such statements as “. . . in Vineland, it’s all about the flavor” while showing a tractor on a farm.

This decision gives advertisers some food for thought about making sure to review the ad in its proper context as a whole and consider what implied claims can be conveyed by the combination of the oral voiceover and the visual images. It is comfort food to advertisers that NAD is flexible in the factors to use to define ‎a hometown for a brand. But food companies can often overindulge in conveying that an unintended line claim is not precise in what is said and what products are shown.