The complaint referred to Heinz's golden multigrain, chocolate and organic biscotti for babies. Despite sugar being the second listed ingredient for all three varieties – which contain 24, g, 27 g and 28 g sugar respectively – Heinz called the products a 'healthy snack' on the website, in adverts and on packaging.
The high sugar content put the biscotti in the red category under the government’s voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labelling.
And so when the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, Heinz agreed to remove the references, resolving the issue 'informally'. The website now calls the biscotti ‘finger food’, describing them as “nibbles to keep them going.”
But for CFC co-ordinator, Malcolm Clark, there was little cause to celebrate. Clark called the change in wording "merely cosmetic".
“Heinz has been caught red-handed trying to mislead parents into believing sugary biscotti are an appropriate and healthy food to give to babies. (...) [But] they are now simply using different wording to imply it is okay to give the sugary biscotti to babies in-between meals. Moreover, Heinz has announced no measures to reduce the actual sugar content in their biscotti,” he said.
“This case reveals the limits of existing advertising rules, the relative powerlessness of the regulator, and the impunity of Heinz to continue spending millions promoting sugary baby foods,” he said, calling the ruling unsatisfactory.
Clark also slammed the fact that the the wording may continue to beused on the products' packaging.
ASA spokesperson, Matt Wilson, said that the authority's remit did not extend to claims made on packaging and so this would not be changed as a result of the ruling.
Wilson also told FoodNavigator that the ASA clearly disagreed with the CFC’s view on its relative powerlessness. "While a campaign group that actively lobbies for tighter restrictions around food advertising will want us to go further, it’s important that we maintain a balanced approach, taking into account competing views and apply the strict rules that are in place in a proportionate way,” he said.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Heinz said the company took its responsibilities as an advertiser very seriously. "As soon as we were made aware that certain elements of our website copy may not have met the high standards we demand, we took immediate action to make changes. The matter was resolved to the satisfaction of the ASA.”
Heinz also removed a health claim for thiamine and amended a claim for iron from the biscotti, after it became apparent that it was not compliant with the EU’s Register of Nutrition and Health Claims, although this had not originally been flagged by the CFC.