Nestlé has become embroiled in a new controversy after the company was forced to remove its “great start to the day” claim on one of its products following a ruling that found an advertisement for the high-sugar drink encouraged poor nutritional habits in children.
The ruling is the latest in a long line of controversies involving the Swiss-based company, which has previously been criticised for aggressively marketing the health benefits of infant formula over breast milk in developing countries and using child labour among its suppliers.
The advert on Asda’s own-brand milk labels for Nesquik hot chocolate featured a bunny cartoon character stirring a cup of the drink underneath the logo with the controversial claim. A complaint from the Children’s Food Campaign has been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which said the “great start” assertion was likely to be understood as a reference to the health benefits of the drink, but was not accompanied by any authorised health claims and therefore breached regulations.
A campaign against Nestlé’s baby milk products was launched in the United States in 1977, before spreading to Europe, aimed at what activists said was aggressive marketing in the developing world where it espoused the health benefits of infant formula over breast milk. The water quality is also poorer in many developing countries and causes problems when mixed with the formula, potentially leading to disease.
Other scandals have included horsemeat found in its beef products in Spain and Italy, child labour among its suppliers, and a chocolate price-fixing scandal in Canada. In its defence to the ASA over the latest row, Nestlé UK said that a 200ml drink made with three teaspoons of Nesquik hot chocolate contained more than 20g of sugars – two-thirds of the daily recommended intake for those aged 11 or older and classified as “high” under the government’s traffic light scheme.
However, it said the Nesquik bunny had been carefully designed to promote a “physically active, energetic character who could promote a healthy lifestyle” while the “great start” line simply suggested the product could be consumed at the start of the day and described the general enjoyment of drinking it.
The company also said more than half the sugar in the prepared drink came from lactose, which was found naturally in milk, and included nutrients additional to those in milk such as vitamins C and D, zinc and iron. Asda said it had no part in creating or approving the ad, which had been given directly to its milk supplier by Nestlé.
Upholding the complaint, the ASA also found that the combination of the cartoon rabbit, which was likely to appeal to children, and the “great start” claim alongside the nutritional information, suggested Nesquik hot chocolate was suitable for children to have regularly at breakfast.
The ASA said: “While we understood that semi-skimmed milk alone contained 9.6g of sugar per 200ml serving, which allowed for an orange traffic light label, we also understood that a 200ml serving of Nesquik hot chocolate contained 20.3g of sugar.
“Because the product was high in added sugar, we considered that the suggestion that Nesquik was a suitable regular breakfast option for children encouraged poor nutritional habits in children and that the ad therefore should not have appeared at all.”
The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear in its current form and told Nestlé UK and Asda to ensure future ads did not encourage poor nutritional habits in children. Nestlé said it was “disappointed” with the ruling.
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