I would like to think of myself as a smart consumer in this day and age.  When I see an advertisement for a ‘miracle weight loss pill’ I know that I am not going to be buying size 2 jeans by the end of the week as promised.  It’s an impossible claim. It’s obvious. But how many other consumers do believe what they see or read or hear?

Does truth in advertising mean anything to anyone and what can we do about it?

In the news recently, a California mother filed a class action lawsuit against Nutella manufacturer Ferrero for claiming that she was duped into believing the spread was ‘part of a healthy breakfast’ but in fact is not much better than eating a chocolate bar.

She won.

Ferrero has been ordered to pay out as much as $2.5 million from the total settlement of $3.05 million to any US citizen who purchased the product between 2008 and 2012.*

I’ve spent the better part of the afternoon reading many people’s opinions on the mother, the judge, American’s in general, the consumer etc. Quite a few times it was mentioned that the mother should take responsibility for what she is feeding her daughter and read the nutrition label, that she is ignorant for believing anything that is advertised on TV because all companies are only out to increase their own bottom line.  I’m not disagreeing that people need to look out for themselves, do their own research, read labels etc. In fact that is what Sarafino is all about. However, I am frustrated with the general opinion that whether or not we logically ‘know’ that a chocolate spread can’t possibly be part of a healthy breakfast, that Nutella should be able to imply whatever they want in their ads. Should the company not have to take any responsibility? The mother may have not have done her due diligence BUT does that mean that Ferrero should get away with falsely advertising their product?

Due diligence in this case was described by the many article commentators as reading the nutrition label. This exact case happens to be in the United States but to bring this point home I’m sure many of you are not aware that nutrition guidelines in Canada allow for a 20% margin in error. In 2007, Bruce Holub, a food sciences professor at the University of Guelph, tested a range of products from baby biscuits to chicken fingers and found not so surprising results. Well not surprising to me anyway. His research proved that 15% of the products he studied had values on the nutrition label that did not match the actual values of the products.**

So, how is the average consumer supposed to know what is good for them to eat when they can’t trust the advertising and they can’t trust the labels? Most of the time you can’t even pronounce the ingredient list. Glance at a label and don’t see the word sugar so you think what you are buying is healthy? Think again! Agave nectar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, sorghum and treacle are all examples of sugar but are names that the average consumer doesn’t recognize. Carry around a dictionary while grocery shopping might be the way of the future!

My beef with this situation is that I understand that we as consumers need to take responsibility for ourselves but how is an honest company supposed to advertise their truly healthy products to a now skeptical public?

Here is a sample of Nutella’s advertisement. You decide for your self if it is ‘implied’ that this chocolaty spread is healthy or not.

Nutella Advertisement

Keep in mind that the law states: An advertisement will contravene the law if it contains a representation that is either false or misleading. ***

The advertising industry in Canada is a lot like the food industry in that it is mainly SELF policed. Enough said.

What do you think about the Nutella lawsuit? We want your feedback on how responsible you think the consumer should be vs. the manufacturer.



** (http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2007/05/09/nutrition-labels.html)

***(Eric Swetsky MBA, LLB, Barrister and Solicitor, Toronto Canada)

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