The University of Bonn study identified several impacts of the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) including consumer confusion over claim wording; limited R&D and functional food sector abandonment.
“With respect to promoting innovation, it seems that due to the various challenges related to Article 13.1 [general function claims], companies are not willing to undertake radical innovation or new product development and they would rather engage in incremental innovation,” found the researchers led by Dr Stephanie Broring at the Uni of Bonn.
They added: “On the whole, it appears that the NHCR (Article 13.1) currently provides less incentive for product differentiation and investment in innovation activities.”
EU-based healthy foods branding expert Julian Mellentin from New Nutrition Business (NNB) said the findings were no surprise, but observed the European food and supplements industry should stop using the health claims regulation as an excuse for uncreative marketing of healthy foods.
“Often health claims are the least important part of a product’s communications – the problem is not necessarily the regulation but the cultural ‘can’t do’ attitude of much of the European food industry,” he told us.
“We in Europe were very good at innovation but that is no longer the case and the can-do attitude can now be found in the US, in Asia, in Australia.
“The fact is we have a lot of food marketers in Europe who are just not very good at their job and are using the health claim restrictions to justify their own chronic ineptitude."
Scotland-based Mellentin added: “There are brands that are very successful like meat snacks, coconut water, health bars for example that are doing very well with wellness and natural claims that have nothing to do with the NHCR.”
‘Significant chink in the armour’
Dr Robert Verkerk, executive and scientific director of the Alliance for Natural Health-International (ANH-I) said the research added weight to calls from industry and some political groups to amend or dismantle the NHCR.
“This publication, and the two other related papers, provide a significant chink in the armour of this defective regulation,” said Dr Verkerk.
“National governments, health professionals and most of all, the public, via the European Parliament, need to apply pressure on the European Commission to help initiate the processes required to fix the NHCR’s flaws and rekindle innovation in the sector.”
Founder of the Healthy Marketing Team, Peter Wennstrom, said the study highlighted the fact that “deregulation – not just of health claims – would give a bigger boost to EU food innovation than all active investments in innovation such as the EU €100m Foodkic project - which is set to announce successful collaborators this month.”
International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition
‘Reviewing the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006: What do we know about its challenges and potential impact on innovation?’
Authors: Stefanie Bröring, Sukhada Khedkar & Stefano Ciliberti