English - Milda Fruity

The Council on Market Ethics in Sweden normally only supplies statements in Swedish. However the following statement has been translated into English due to a big international interest. We appologise for the delay in publishing this on the website.

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Published 12/10/2005

Statement from Council on Market Ethics

Unilever Bestfoods

STATEMENT 16/05 - Reg. no. 29/2004

On 5 October 2005, relating to an advertisement for Milda Fruity aimed at children which, it was argued, did not demonstrate an appropriate sense of social responsibility and was in breach of articles 1, 4 and 14 of the Basic Rules of the International Chamber of Commerce for advertisements, etc.

Party reporting the alleged breach

Konsumentombudsmannen [the Swedish Consumer Ombudsman]

Respondent

Unilever Bestfoods AB, Helsingborg

MER’s ruling

MER [Marknadsetiska Rådet – the Council On Market Ethics] rules that Unilever Bestfoods AB is in breach of good business practice because the TV advertisement for Milda Fruity directly encourages children to persuade their parents or other adults to buy Milda Fruity for them and also portrays the product’s characteristics, in terms of its nutritional content and health properties, in an untrue and therefore misleading way.

Background to the report

Unilever Bestfoods has used such methods such as TV advertisements to market its Milda Fruity sandwich spread.

A TV spot of 21 August 2004 shows a family consisting of a father, mother and two children eating breakfast in the kitchen. The camera zooms in on a text while at the same time a female voice says: “Now there’s a sandwich spread all children like.” The word “like” on the screen is crossed out in red and replaced by the words “We demand it!”, written in slightly childish handwriting.  At the same time, a child’s voice says “We demand it!”.

The speaker’s voice returns, saying: ”New Milda Fruity is made of real fruit and milk and is so delicious that your children will want it on their sandwiches at snack time and on crisprolls and…” A girl’s voice breaks in: ”…and in their lunchboxes and on pancakes!”

The speaker goes on: “OK, let’s just say that all children like it…” whereupon a boy’s voice breaks in saying “… and Dad as well!”.
The advertisement ends with the speaker saying: “New Milda Fruity. Delicious on sandwiches.” The word ”Delicious” is crossed out and the word “yummy” is written over it in childish handwriting. At the same time, a girl’s voice is heard to say: “Yummy on sandwiches.”

Report

The advertisement markets a sandwich spread that is obviously intended for children. The children in the film point out that the spread tastes “yummy” and that they “demand it”. This formulation cannot be perceived in any way other than that the children will demand the spread, i.e. pester their parents. The film has been shown at times when children are watching.

According to the advertiser, Milda Fruity is suitable as a snack. However, the product has a high fat and sugar content, which is not recommended in a healthy, balanced diet.

Reply

Unilever Bestfoods AB has denied that the advertisement would be in breach of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) basic rules and, in support of that argument, has principally stated as follows.

Firstly, it may be verified that the target group for the TV advertisement in question was women in the 25-39 age group. Whenever Unilever was able to decide on the slot, the advertisement was broadcast in connection with programmes on subjects such as dressmaking and cookery, which are largely aimed at the target group in question. The spot in question on TV4 was shown between a football match and the news. Leaving aside the fact that not only did TV4 presumably not reach a particularly large part of the target group in that slot, it probably also managed to avoid having the advertisement seen by children. Consequently, the advertisement was not aimed at children and neither did it contain any direct encouragement to children to persuade their parents to buy the product.

With regard to the statement that Milda Fruity is not healthy, it may be stated that the product, which is intended as a complete sandwich spread in itself, is made from skimmed milk, vegetable oil and fruit. It has a 19 per cent fat content, most of which consists of unsaturated fat. 12 per cent sugar has been added for the sake of the flavour. The energy content from the sugar is less than 10 per cent, which falls within the limits of the WHO guidelines for total food intake. Milda Fruity cannot therefore be considered to be unhealthy.

The expression, ”We demand it!” stated both in writing and using children’s voices, consists of a dramatisation of the message which is intended to attract the target group’s attention.

Due to weak sales figures, Milda Fruity is no longer marketed and sales of the product will cease from the beginning of 2005.

Expert opinion

MER has obtained a statement on Milda Fruity and the advertisement in question from a group of dieticians working in fast-moving consumer goods. The statement essentially states as follows.

Sugar as a food additive has largely been blamed for the development of obesity and overweight among children in the western world. There is some justification for that criticism but, as always, the complete lifestyle of the person must be taken into consideration. An action plan to combat the development of obesity and overweight has been devised and, within the framework of that plan, attention has focused on children’s food and exercise habits. Product groups that we should eat less of have been identified. This so-called “utrymmesmat1” has its place in the Food Wheel and can certainly be eaten occasionally, but not too often. Junk food is characterised by the fact that it is high in energy and low in nutrition, often with a high sugar and fat content, and therefore seldom provides many vitamins and minerals. Foods such as soft drinks, still drinks, cordials, ice cream, confectionery and sweet sandwich spreads such as Nutella and peanut butter are considered junk food. Children should not have too much of these foods. Thus, a 4-year old should not eat more of these product groups per week than, for example: 1 ice lolly, 100 g of sweets, seven Maria biscuits and a small bag (50 g) of crisps. This is assuming that the child’s diet is otherwise perfect – in other words, that it does not contain sugary cereals or yoghurts, but instead consists of wholemeal bread, lean meats and dairy products and 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day.

The Milda Fruity product is at first sight acceptable from a nutritional point of view – though no more than acceptable – provided that the product is consumed in its correct context. Therefore, it must only be eaten as a snack on isolated occasions. The product can also be eaten when there is a need for fast loading of carbohydrates, for example in cases of low blood sugar for diabetics or to replenish carbohydrate supplies after strenuous physical activity. The high quantity of added sugar makes it unsuitable as a sandwich spread for children, however delicious they consider it to be. A product for children which is intended to be consumed every day should, if possible, not contain any sugar at all. An excessive energy intake from sugar can easily lead to an imbalance in nutritional intake, in other words the intake of energy is far too high and the intake of vitamins and minerals is too low. Regardless of whether Milda Fruity may be seen as a nutritious product in comparison with other products classifiable as junk food, it is not to be recommended as a snack for children other than on isolated occasions.

The opinion is attached as appendix 1.

MER’s ruling

The report updates a judgment in accordance with article 1 of the basic rules for advertisements which states, among other things, that advertisements must be trustworthy and must demonstrate an appropriate sense of social responsibility. The contents of that article, in connection with the marketing of food and drink, have been specified through the ICC guidelines for responsible advertising of food and drink. It provides, among other things, that any statements on a product’s nutrition and health advantages must have a sound scientific basis. One of the requirements for a sense of social responsibility, according to the guidelines, is that advertisements for food and drink must not encourage or overlook excessive consumption and that advertisements must not undermine the importance of a healthy lifestyle. This requirement for trustworthiness is contemplated in article 5 of the basic rules. Parts of point 1 of these rules are reproduced in the aforesaid guidelines with the clarification that “advertisements for food and drink must present the characteristics of the product, such as its nutritional content or health properties, in a truthful manner and must not mislead consumers in any way”. Since the advertisement in question is aimed at children and young people, there is one ruling in accordance with article 14, point 3 of the basic rules that becomes relevant. This ruling emphasises that advertisements must not contain direct encouragements to children and young people to persuade their parents or other adults to buy the advertised product for them.

With regard to the question of whether the aforesaid TV advertisement can be said to be aimed at children and young people, there is certainly no reason to question the statement by Unilever that the intended target group is women in the 25-39 age group. However, the decisive factors for deciding on the applicability of the special rules for advertisements for children and young people contained in the basic rules and the aforesaid guidelines include not only the primary target group for the advertisement, but also consideration of whether its style and contents can be presumed to attract children and young people to take notice of it and whether these groups are exposed to the advertisement.

The text reproduced in the picture: “Now there is a sandwich spread that all children like”, in which the word “like” is crossed out in red and replaced by the words “We demand it!” written in childish handwriting, at the same time as a child’s voice is heard to say “We demand it!”, can be supposed to attract children and young people to take notice of the advertisement. Investigation into the matter has failed to clarify whether the TV advertisement was continuously shown at times when many children were watching or in connection with programmes watched by many of them. However, in any case, the fact that it was shown in connection with a football match, which forms the basis for the report by the Swedish Consumer Ombudsman, can be supposed to imply that the advertisement was shown to a considerable number of children and young people. The aforesaid rules on advertisements for children and young people therefore apply.

In MER’s opinion, the concept of “direct encouragement” contained in article 14, point 3 of the basic rules not only includes expressions that are literally formulated as imperative instructions to children/young people, but also includes other representations whose style and contents make them calculated to be noticed and which work in the same way.

The process with the written text: “Now there is a sandwich spread that all children like”, where the word “like” is crossed out in red and replaced by “we demand it!”, written in childish handwriting, constitutes an encouragement to children to persuade their parents or other adults to buy Milda Fruity for them which is in breach of article 14, point 3 of the basic rules. The encouragement becomes so much clearer when it is reinforced by a child’s voice saying “we demand it!”. The TV advertisement is therefore already in breach of good business practice on these grounds.

The TV advertisement in question presents an everyday breakfast situation in a family with children. The speaker’s voice describes a series of situations in which children will want to eat Milda Fruity: “on their sandwiches at snack time and on crisprolls and … in their lunchboxes and on pancakes.”. The speaker then states that Milda Fruity is made from real fruit and milk. The overall impression conveyed by the TV advertisement is that Milda Fruity is a nutritious food that is suitable to be eaten in a number of different everyday situations. However, the expert opinions make clear that Milda Fruity is so-called junk food that should be consumed in moderation and only on isolated occasions. This is considered to apply to children in particular. As a result of its assessment of the advertisement in question, combined with the expert opinion, MER rules that the advertisement does not present the properties of Milda Fruity in a truthful manner as regards its nutritional content and health properties. The advertisement is therefore misleading and is in breach of the requirement for trustworthiness in accordance with the basic rules and the special guidelines for responsible advertising of food and drink. Unilever is therefore also in breach of the requirement relating to social responsibility. The advertisement is in breach of good business practice for the reasons stated here.

Opposing view by member Göran Riegnell

Article 14, point 3 of the basic rules states, among other things, that advertisements must not contain direct (my italics) encouragement to children and young people to persuade their parents or other adults to buy the advertised product for them. The feature of the advertisement that is considered by the majority to be in breach of article 14, point 3 could be interpreted as indirect encouragement that does not constitute direct encouragement to children and young people and can therefore not be considered to be in breach of the article in question.

The expert opinion obtained certainly states that Milda Fruity must be classified in a group of foods that should be consumed with a certain degree of moderation. However, we should not conclude from this that the marketing of similar foods is generally unsuitable. The new guidelines for responsible advertising of food and drink state that “commercial freedom of expression in connection with sales of all lawful products is a fundamental principle for a free market”. Furthermore, it states as follows: “however, the exercise of commercial freedom of expression, like all rights, entails obligations”. As always, it is necessary to find a balance between these principles. I consider that a decision by MER that the advertisement is guilty of the breach results from an extremely broad interpretation of the new guidelines which ascribes too little importance to commercial freedom of expression. It would be unfortunate if a broad interpretation of the rules resulted in or could be considered as a de facto prohibition on the marketing of completely lawful, common food products.

I cannot consider that the advertisement in question was attempting to entice consumers to replace healthier food with Milda Fruity or that it gives an incorrect view of the value of the food product from a nutritional point of view. The advertisement is therefore neither misleading nor in breach of the requirement for social responsibility.

Expert opinion

(Appendix 1)

Solna 25/05/2005

As a result of case 29/2004:  the Swedish Consumer Ombudsman ./. Unilever Bestfood AB, relating to an advertisement for Milda Fruity, we, as dieticians working in fast-moving consumer goods, have been given the opportunity to submit observations on the product from a nutritional point of view.

Background

The current development of obesity and overweight, particularly among children, gives great cause for concern for the future. Sugar, as an additive in our food, has largely been blamed for its development in the western world and that criticism is to some extent justified.

However, as always, it is necessary to take into account the complete lifestyle of the person.

A proposal for a plan of action to combat obesity and overweight has now been put forward by government researchers, the Folkhälsoinstitutet [Swedish National Institute of Public Health] and the Livsmedelsverket [National Food Administration] and attention has focused on children’s food and exercise habits. We have also identified product groups that we should all eat less of – so-called junk food.

These are products that do not fit into the food wheel and which can certainly be eaten occasionally, but not too often. Junk food is high in energy and low in nutritional value, often with a high sugar and fat content, but which seldom provides any great quantities of vitamins and minerals. The list of these foods includes soft drinks, still drinks, cordials, confectionery, ice cream, cakes, buns, jam, marmalade and snacks. The sweet sandwich spreads, Nutella and peanut butter, should also be considered to belong to this group. The government has made it very clear that it wishes to see a reduction in marketing of these products, particularly to children.

Children should not eat too much of these foods. For example a 4-year-old should only have the following per week: 1 ice lolly (such as a Piggelin), 100 g of sweets, 7 Maria biscuits and 1 small bag (50 g) of crisps. This presupposes that the child’s diet is otherwise perfect, in other words that it does not contain sugary cereals or yoghurts but instead contains wholemeal bread, lean meat and dairy products and 400 g of fruit and vegetables per day.

Product

Milda Fruity, nutritional values per 100 g:
Energy 260 kcal
Protein 3.5 g
Fat 19 g
of which saturated fat 7 g (just over 1/3)
Carbohydrates 19 g
of which added sugar 12 g (compared to Coca-Cola, which has 10.5 g added sugar)

No data is available on any vitamins and minerals.

At first sight, the product is acceptable from a nutritional point of view – through no more than acceptable – provided that it is consumed in the proper context:

1. It is only eaten as a snack on isolated occasions
2. It is used as a sandwich spread when there is a need for fast carbohydrates, for example in cases of low blood sugar for diabetics or as a replenishment of carbohydrate supplies after strenuous physical activity.

The high quantity of added sugar makes it unsuitable as a sandwich spread for children, however delicious they may find it. We should all reduce our sugar intake and products for children that are intended to be consumed every day should if possible not contain any sugar whatsoever. An excessive energy intake from sugar can easily lead to an imbalance in nutritional intake, in other words we get too much energy and not enough vitamins and minerals. Sugar tastes sweet and makes children prefer sweet products, which undermines a healthy diet. It is therefore deplorable to further encourage children’s predilection for sweet tastes.

Unilever Bestfood’s comparisons clearly fall down in the face of recommendations that children must not have any sweet snacks at all. So, regardless of whether this is the best product in comparison with other nutritionally bad products, it should not be recommended for children’s snacks. 1 sandwich with Lätta [light margarine] and 1 slice of ham or cheese contains no sugar whatsoever! This, accompanied by milk, is the best choice for a snack for a child – not sweet sandwich spreads.

The advertisement must be considered as a breakfast situation. We understood from Unilever Bestfood that they consider this product to be a snack product, no matter how unsuitable it may be. However, the film sends a completely different message to parents (and children). This product is delicious and children “demand” it, perhaps for breakfast, lunch and dinner! The unfortunate thing in this context is that many people gain the perception that it is relatively nutritious, partly due to the name “Fruity” and partly due to the context of the breakfast table. It cannot be assumed that all parents are skilled in nutrition and able to judge the suitability of products for daily consumption or when certain products might not be suitable for consumption at all.

Best regards,

Dieticians at the Mat och Hälsarådet [Committee for Food and Health], Svensk Dagligvaruhandel [Swedish Food & Drink Retailer’s Federation]
Latifa Lindberg, COOP
Mona Lauerman-Orheden, Bergendahls/Vi-butikerna
Helena Svensson, Axfood

Through
Christina Karlsson
Dietician
ICA AB

1 Translator’s note: The Swedish expression ”utrymmesmat” is used to denote a type of food that is variously known in the English-speaking world as ”junk food”, ”non-core foods”, ”bad foods” or ”unhealthy food”.