The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling follows the strict EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR) which states ‘antioxidant’ is an implied health claim. Pre- and probiotics have faced the same destiny under the NHCR.
Since specific antioxidant claims for fruits or juices have not been approved under the NHCR, the ASA told Naked Juice the marketing was unauthorised and that it must stop.
Naked Juice had argued that the UK Department of Health (D0H) had not been clear on whether the loaded term was indeed an implied health claim if it was used as a general descriptor and backed by a more specific health claim, in this case for vitamin C and oxidative stress (which has been approved under the NHCR).
The company said flexibility in claim wording had been mandated by the DoH and European Commission and it was therefore within the law to use the term as it had. Naked Juice said the average consumer would understand the context in which it had been used and would not be misled by it.
Antioxidants: Nature's elite fighting force?
But the ASA said the DoH has been more equivocal, and quoted directly from a DoH guidance document that said: "Claims such as 'contains antioxidants' ... are defined as health claims and will need to be authorised via Article 13 [of the NHCR]".
The products in question included ‘Green Machine’ and ‘Mango Machine’ both of which continue to tout the term on their labelling and on the Naked Juice website as of today.
Even if such guidance did not exist, the ASA said its ruling would remain the same.
“We considered that the claims ‘ANTIOXIDANT’ and ‘ANTIOXIDANT FAMILY’ were not references to a general, non-specific benefit of the product for overall health, but were specific health claims, because the term ‘antioxidant’ referred to the function of a substance on the body.”
“We considered that the claim ‘Juice Smoothies loaded with nature's elite fighting force to defend your body against free radicals (those nasty little molecules that attack your cells and could have an impact on your overall health)’ was also a specific health claim, for the same reason.”
Phrase cherry picking
In regard to the vitamin C content, the ASA said Naked Juice had cherry picked words and phrases from the approved European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion – something the DoH has specifically warned against.
The authority continued: “Furthermore, we noted that although the EFSA opinion listed various claims that had been considered in relation to the effects of Vitamin C, including the claims ‘antioxidant activity/antioxidant’ and ‘antioxidant properties’, EFSA had concluded that the wording justified by the evidence was, ‘Vitamin C contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress’; they had rejected all claims which used the term ‘antioxidant’.”
“We considered the claim 'ANTIOXIDANT', in the context of the ad, did not convey the full meaning of the authorised health claim to consumers, and we therefore concluded the ad breached the Code in that regard.”
It said another ‘ANTIOXIDANT FAMILY’ claim exaggerated the potency of antioxidants and anyway, could only relate to the nutrient (vitamin C) not the whole product (Naked Juice). But this had not been done.