EFSA climate risks turning consumers off healthy foods, analyst

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Health claims, Nutrition

An uncertain climate regarding health claims could lead to EU consumers losing trust in health claims altogether and shifting back to unhealthy diets, warns Euromonitor

Assessing EFSA’s (the European Food Safety Authority’s) scientific opinions since 2008, Mickael Dominguez, health and wellness analyst, Euromonitor International, said in a podcast​ that a “feeling of uncertainty”​ had acted as a brake on NPD and marketing worldwide.

Given that this had led to firms ditching disease-reduction claims on labelling in favour of soft claims, he said: “Ultimately, it could lead to consumers losing trust in health claims altogether and shifting back to an unhealthy diet.”

Since EFSA began publishing its opinions on health claims in 2008, Dominguez noted a move away from disease-reduction claims towards general functional claims, nutrition claims or even no claims at all.

EFSA statistics show that in 2005 disease-reduction claims accounted for around 46% of product claims within the health and wellness category, rising to 53% in 2009 but thereafter entering what he described as a “free-fall, to an all-time low”​ of 38% in 2010.

Conversely, while soft claims accounted for a still significant 47% of applications in 2009, a massive 68% of claims are now made upon this basis.

Danone ditches hard health claim

Danone was one key industry player to make such a move, Dominguez said, withdrawing EFSA applications regarding their probiotic yogurt Activia in April 2010.

The French firm removed Activia health claims from packaging within many European countries in 2010, with disease reduction claims present on packs in only 6/15 EU countries assessed – with no claims at all in three nations, including France – compared with 12/15 in 2009.

For instance, Activia’s 2009 Italian labels stated: ‘Reduces bloating every day.’ But by 2010 the firm moved towards a nutrition claim: ‘Danone Activia is the only element to contain exclusive bifidus bacteria'.

Functional feeling of uncertainty

Dominguez said such moves reflected the fact that firms are worried about what will happen next, what will be allowed and what rejected. "There is a feeling of uncertainly taking over the functional foods industry in EU and even the world,”​ he said.

“Companies are relucatant to invest millions in marketing camp for products that could soon be banned from bearing any health claims.”

As for what industry could do to survive regulatory uncertainty, Dominguez said that areas such as immune support – where positive opinions have been delivered on the benefits of everything from iron, vitamin A, vitamin B6 and vitamin B9 to vitamins B12, C, D, zinc and copper – and cardiovascular health, offered more promise than, say, probiotics.

“We can easily imagine manufacturers choosing to add one or several ingredients to yogurts or juice to allow it to keep an immune support position, so long as taste is not affected,” ​he said.

“Cardiovascular health has one of the highest approval rates, and in 2009 the global market for such products was worth $3.2bn US, 7 times lower than global sales of probiotics," ​Dominguez added.

Play the waiting game?

As a result, he said there was also scope for growth in sales of ‘heart healthy’ products in the EU, such as thiamine, omega 3, beta glucans, guar gum, pectins, to grow, especially given high incidence of coronary heart disease worldwide.

In essence, Dominguez explained, manufacturers have three options. 1. Change their market positioning and focus on soft claims. 2. As per Tate & Lyle – which he said is working on new concepts prioritising taste or rebalancing, such as high-fibre white bread with polydextrose – temporarily suspend the focus on functionality and await new EFSA guidance due to be published this spring on making health claims.

Lastly, companies could refocus sales geographically, and look to regions such as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) where Dominguez said the regulations were less taxing while there are “massive development opportunities”.

Related topics: Health claims, Suppliers

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1 comment

what was the goal of the EHCR?

Posted by Pieter Pekelharing,

The goal of the EHCR was not to promote proper health information to the public to help them taking wise decisions on health and nutrition. The goal was to avoid misleading. keeping away not 100 % scientific proven claims from consumers is for EFSA a lot more important than informing the public on what may be useful. If not one claim were to be passed, the EHCR would be a total succes, taking it's goals in to account. The EHCR is drama for consumers who want to be informed and it is logic that they lose confidence.

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