A TV advert in which the celebrity chef Gary Rhodes claimed that a best-selling margarine was more popular than a rival's butter blend has been banned for misleading viewers. The Advertising Standards Authority said Unilever had insufficient evidence that people preferred the taste of Flora Buttery to a Lurpak spread.
Yesterday's ruling is the latest in the fierce battle between traditional butter companies and margarine giants for the £975m-a-year "yellow fats" market in which the focus is on creating hybrid products that are creamier than margarine but spread more easily than butter.
Rhodes, 48, came unstuck when 30 complaints, including one from a rival company Arla Foods, were made about his claim that Flora Buttery, made from seed oils and buttermilk, was more popular than Lurpak Lighter Spreadable, made from a blend of butter and vegetable oils.
On the TV ad, Rhodes is shown approaching shoppers with buttered crumpets, asking: "Come and have a taste. Which one is your favourite?" He eventually declares the better-tasting product to be Flora Buttery. Text with the advert states: "Out of 200 people tested 48 per cent preferred Flora Buttery Taste, 45 per cent Lurpak Lighter spreadable, 7 per cent had no preference."
The Anglo-Dutch manufacturer Unilever conceded to the ASA that a 3 per cent margin between those who liked each spread would not ordinarily support its claim that Flora was more popular so had screened the poll results alongside the voice-over.
The Advertising Standards Authority expressed concern that a sample of 200 people was too small to support such a bold "preference" claim, adding: "We were shown no evidence to demonstrate that the results were statistically significant to qualify the claim that 'more people prefer' Flora Buttery in the context of the survey. "
The ASA continued: "We noted, of the total number surveyed, the number of those who selected Lurpak Lighter Spreadable or indicated no preference, was greater than the number who selected Flora Buttery. We considered, therefore, that the results had not demonstrated that more people prefer the taste of Flora Buttery." The ASA added: "We concluded that the claim 'More people prefer the taste of Flora Buttery' has not been supported with sufficiently robust evidence and was likely to mislead."
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