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Vitafoods: EU nutra space wriggles into new health claims clothes

By Shane Starling , 15-May-2012
Last updated the 17-May-2012 at 19:51 GMT

What kind of health claims will be made on the Vitafoods show floor this year?
What kind of health claims will be made on the Vitafoods show floor this year?

Vitafoods celebrates its 15th birthday next week. It’ll be my 11th consecutive May visit to Geneva for the jamboree and promises to be one of the most intriguing chapters with the (partial and belated) resolution of years of ambiguity regarding health claims in Europe.

And what a contentious resolution it is – if we are talking general function, article 13 health claims, the ones that made up the bulk of the process – there are 222 claim winners for about 70 nutrients more than 1600 rejections. 

Vitafoods 2012 will be the first major ingredients show where we can peek into how the industry is likely to take shape in coming years under the new rules.

Large sections of industry remain deeply peeved at that authorised-non-authorised ratio; at how the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) has so harshly slapped seemingly scientifically sound nutraceutical heavyweights.

Probiotics (gut, immunity), cranberry (UTI), soy (cholesterol) and lutein (eyes) are just a few prominent examples of nutrients that have fallen on EFSA’s scientific ‘causality has not been demonstrated’ sword. Resubmissions are in process under other articles of the regulation (13.5, 14).

Claims certainty, certainly

But at least there is some certainty even if industry will say most of the 222 claims are for ‘obvious’ associations mainly around vitamins and minerals.

That may be so, but there are also some genuinely new claims so it will be interesting to see how these are marketed in the increasingly sophisticated nutra showcase that Vitafoods has become.

Just look at the attention around cholesterol-lowering olive extracts if you want an example of how powerful a positive health claim can be, at least at an industry level. Time will tell how consumers respond to the health messaging but companies are flocking around it.

While the article 13 health claims register will not be enforceable until later in the year across the 27-nation EU bloc, the register has been circulating for quite a few months giving the best marketing wizards from the most powerful ingredients companies in the world plenty of time to refine their messaging and enhance their nutra-suites.

Not to mention the cheeky start-ups that see these 222 state-backed health claim associations for exactly what they can be to them – marketing gifts.

Sans claims

Perhaps even more interesting will be the way those nutrients without approved claims are marketed because of course the NHCR relates to B2C comms, not B2B.

That means firms can continue to link their nutrients with health conditions but the food and supplement brand owners of the world scouring the Vitafoods show floor for next-generation nutrition solutions to enhance their future offerings may demand explanations about any particular ingredient's claims status in the EU.

“Er, well EFSA has adopted a very medicalised approach to nutrition science that does not necessarily reflect the state of that field nor its passage into commercial speech…data suggest claims are overrated anyway...”

Expect to see companies not wishing to pursue such conversations offering blends with approved nutrients mixed in with the less fortunate.

Or there is always activated charcoal – it reduces flatulence you know, or in EFSA speak: “excessive intestinal gas accumulation”.

Excusez moi.

See you in Geneva.

Shane Starling is the senior editor of NutraIngredients, FoodNavigator and FoodNavigator-Asia. He has never eaten activated charcoal and invites you to come and say hello to our team at our video studio between the escalators as you enter the show floor.

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