The spat started when Perfect World Ice Cream took complaints against health claims made on the websites of its competitors Oppo and Taywell to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
This week the ASA upheld the complaint against Oppo, ruling the firm had made general health claims about its products that were unsupported by specific claims approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
“We considered the references to healthiness, ‘superfoods’ and ‘super-fruit’ were likely to be understood as relating to general benefits of the products or their ingredients for overall good health or health-related well-being.
"However, they were not accompanied by any specific authorised health claim. We therefore concluded that the claims breached the Code,” said the ASA’s ruling against Oppo.
The authority has yet to rule on Perfect World’s complaint against Taywell, but Taywell owner Alastair Jessel said he understood it would also be upheld.
A spokeswoman for the ASA confirmed it was investigating a complaint against Taywell, but declined to comment on the ongoing case.
According to Jessel, the complaints relate to the word 'extra' in the phrase 'an extra source of calcium', the contents of a tag that hadn’t been updated on the
Taywell website and the phrase 'say no to added sugar'.
He said Perfect World had first complained to Kent Trading Standards, which declined to take action, and then to the ASA.
‘Petty and spiteful’
Jessel claims the complaint was commercially motivated - something strongly denied by Perfect World.
“It’s very petty, very spiteful, from a company that’s struggling to sell its own products, and thinks the whole [free-from] industry is against it. He’s just trying to cause inconvenience for his competitors,” Jessel claimed, who also described the situation as “a lot of piffle”.
When asked if he had considered taking out a complaint against Perfect World, he said: “I don’t stoop that low. For god’s sake, it’s hard enough to make a living in this industry.”
Meanwhile Oppo managing director Charlie Thuillier said of Perfect World’s complaint: “The complaint was a surprise as the Oppo mission is to allow people to indulge in luxury ice cream without compromising their health – our ingredients and product reflect this.”
He said in a written statement that after subsequently seeking advice from two food authorities, the firm said it had now confirmed that its products do have a composition that can make the EU authorised health claim.
"Therefore we were advised that we can go one step further and use ‘healthy’ not just on our website (as queried) but also on our packaging. So we’d like to extend a thank you to the complainant! We’ll send them a tub of healthy indulgent ice cream to celebrate."
But in an additional comment Thuillier said Perfect World was keen to stop competitors describing their products as containing no added sugar, as this represented its sole USP. He also said Oppo had no interest in pursuing a complaint against Perfect World.
“We are so incredibly busy as a company and feel our time is better spent driving our own business forward rather than being concerned with someone else’s. 744% increase in like-for-like revenue doesn’t come from being overly concerned with the competition,” said Thuillier.
‘Not doing this to be vindictive’
In a lengthy emailed statement, Perfect World CEO and co-founder Chris Conklin denied its complaints were motivated by spite or commercial interest.
“Unsubstantiated claims cause confusion for consumers, and part of our ethos is to be clear direct and honest. When direct competitors make health and/or nutrition claims that are not in line with those regulations we have a duty to consumers, and as directors to our shareholders, to react.”
Perfect World co-founder and director Keith Davidson echoed these remarks.
“It’s not like we’re doing this to be vindictive – we’re doing this because we have an obligation as directors to make sure we’re playing in a level playing field, and to make sure consumers get the right information, because it’s confusing enough as it is.”
Conklin also strongly disputed Oppo’s claim that no added sugar was its sole USP.
“We have no added sugars, and significantly lower calorie count than premium ice creams. We are non-dairy, wheat free, two flavours are gluten free, and each flavour has its own specific EU-regulated health and nutrition benefits.”
Perfect World previously worked with Taywell to produce its initial lines of ice cream. Both Jessel and Davidson confirm the firms collaborated, but give widely differing accounts of how the relationship ended.