Naturalpha’s director of consulting, Eric Chappuis, told NutraIngredients that currently the market was divided up between “very good students” who stick religiously to the health claims, and those who are willing to take more risks in their communication in the hope they will not be controlled.
He said at the moment this later risk-taking group was generally made up of larger companies with more resources at their disposal, with smaller companies generally lacking the confidence to work around health claims more loosely, particularly within France where he said the health claim doctrine was especially strict.
However, Chappuis said this was a question of communication and education, and that if tackled correctly these smaller companies held the potential to be more flexible and reactive than their larger competitors.
Chappuis said it is very important that firms respond to challenges of their health claim use. “If you stay quiet you can say the authorities are right – and they are not always.”
He said that smaller firms tend to have less confidence in doing this, whereas bigger companies have more resources, the capacity to absorb fines incurred and may be used to taking challenges to authorities. He said it was also a question of internal politics and corporate and marketing strategy. “Some companies do not wish to be associated with such risk and scandal in the media,” he said.
However, he said that despite this lack of confidence, smaller firms may hold the advantage of being more flexible with their health benefit communication. “When they need to change their communication – on pack for example – distribution chains are smaller so they are able to do this and decision networks are faster when there are maybe 10-50 employees so people move very quickly.”
(Not so) laissez-faire
Chappuis said France had proved stricter than its neighbours in its interpretation of the health claim regulation. “We didn’t expect it to be so tough,” he said. “For example even products stating a bacterial strain front-of-pack, not mentioning probiotics, can be interpreted as an implied health claim.”
He said the problem in France is that there are no guidelines, with any existing guidance being rough or informal. “If you take Belgium, they set up some guidelines on how flexible you can be. And in the UK too,” he said.
He said that as we move beyond the buffer time following the European health claim regulation's inception back in 2007, this is only likely to become stricter.
Chappuis will be discussing legal risk management and alternative ways of communicating health benefits to consumers with Field Fisher Waterhouse’s food law partner, Katia Merten-Lentz, at the upcoming international workshop on nutrition and health claims in Brussels, which will be attended by NutraIngredients. More information on the event can be found here .