The agency reported that a poster for the kefir drink, seen on the London underground network in May 2017 included claims that were not allowed under law.
The advert stated: “BIOTIFUL DAIRY’S 2000 YEAR OLD SECRET TO BETTER DIGESTION … Long ago, the people of the Caucasus Mountains discovered a miracle drink that naturally boosted digestion and immunity. They called it Kefir which means ‘long life’. They loved it so much that they kept it secret for 2000 years. Then we came along. You’re welcome.”
The initial complainant challenged the claims relating to ‘long-life’ – noting that such a claim was subject to Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims.
Additionally, the ASA itself challenged the ad claims relating to ‘secret to better digestion’ and ‘naturally boosted digestion and immunity’, which are also subject to health claims regulation.
In response, Bio-tiful Dairy said the mention of ‘long life’ was not a health claim; arguing that the advert “simply stated that the word ‘Kefir’ meant ‘Long Life’ (in old Turkish, from the Turkish work “keif”).”
The company said the ad did not state that kefir specifically made you live longer.
Furthermore, Bio-tiful said claims relating to ‘secret to better digestion’ and ‘naturally boosted digestion and immunity’ were backed by approved vitamin claims – arguing that the product was a natural source of vitamin B2 (it contained 383 mcg per 250 g portion which was 27% of the nutrient reference value (NRV)), vitamin B12 (0.63 mcg per 250 g portion / 25% of NRV) and that it contained live yoghurt culture.
According to the ASA report, the company therefore said the claims in the ad were based on the following approved health claims:
- “Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism”
- “improves lactose digestion”
- “Vitamin B12 contributes to normal function of the immune system”
The ASA said it accepted that the claims relating to vitamin B2 and vitamin B12 were authorised on the European health claims register, as suggested by Bio-tiful. However, it said that the claims made in the ad did not reflect the authorised claims.
“While we noted there were authorised claims on the Register which were similar to those identified by the advertiser, we considered that the claims “secret to better digestion” and “naturally boosted digestion and immunity” did not accurately reflect the meaning of those specific authorised health claims,” said the ASA.
“The claims in the ad attributed the health benefits to the advertiser’s product rather than to the substances that the authorised health claims related to,” it added. “We also noted that the claims for vitamins B2 and B12 related to the “normal” functioning of the body, whereas the claims in the ad implied that the product could improve digestion and immune function.”
Furthermore, the ASA noted that the claim ‘improves lactose digestion’ was not authorised on the EU register, but said that there were two similar authorised claims - one relating to lactase enzyme, and one relating to live yoghurt cultures - which stated that those substances improved lactose digestion ‘in individuals who have difficulty digesting lactose.’
“The ad referred to the product’s ability to improve “digestion” generally rather than specifically to “lactose digestion” in those who “have difficulty digesting lactose” as stated in the authorised claims for lactase enzyme and live yoghurt cultures,” said the ASA.
Finally, the UK authority said that in the context of the ad and particularly the surrounding health claims, consumers would understand ‘long life’ to mean the product had general benefits for overall good health and health-related wellbeing, regardless of whether the claim that ‘kefir’ meant ‘long life’ was factually accurate or not.
“That claim should therefore have been accompanied by a specific authorised health claim,” said the ASA.