CHOICE says health focused food trademarks trick shoppers
CHOICE says brand names implying naturalness and healthiness may not be living up to their image, making it difficult for consumers to determine whether something is healthy or not.
CHOICE reviewed 200 food products with natural or healthy sounding product names and found almost half (93) to be high in either total fat, saturated fat, sugars or sodium.
“Manufacturers are trademarking healthy words such as ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ and ‘fresh’ to give the impression that a product is healthier than it seems. Other product names suggest eco-friendliness as consumers are often willing to pay premium for perceived environmental benefits,” says CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just.
For example nutritional information on five All Natural Bakery Bars indicates they are all high in saturated fat and sugars. When it comes to ingredients, the Natural Cordial Company’s lime cordial contains a sulphite preservative, while Nice & Natural Nut and Yoghurt Muesli Bars contain a “yoghurt-flavoured compound” and the popular soy-based emulsifier lecithin.
“The problem is that while food labelling and consumer protection laws prohibit the use of the word ‘health’ on food products and other claims that might mislead consumers, companies can sidestep these laws by using the words in trademarks,” says Ms Just.
“The George Institute for Global Health found 1278 packaged foods with the word ‘natural’ attached to their brand name or packaging.”
The nutritional content of many of the products with eco- and enviro- sounding brand names reviewed by CHOICE also fared poorly. Mother Earth Baked Oaty Slices are high in saturated fat and a number of Back to Nature and Goodness Superfoods Cereals are high in sugar.
“Words like ‘healthy’, ‘fresh’, and ‘natural’ are trigger words to shoppers – words which imply health or environmental benefits. These are very popular terms for food marketers,” says Ms Just.
Trademark law prohibits the registration of a trademark likely to deceive or cause confusion, but nutritional analysis is not part of the approval of new trade marks by IP Australia
In contrast, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is in the process of developing a standard for health claims that would only allow these claims to be made on food products that meet agreed nutritional criteria. Further, the claims will have to be supported by robust scientific evidence.
“Despite the efforts of food labelling regulators to stamp out dodgy health claims, the trademark loophole will remain open to food manufacturers,” says Ms Just.
“Shoppers should know that just because a product’s brand name suggests that it’s healthy or natural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for them or the environment.”
When choosing healthier foods CHOICE recommends shoppers:
- Compare products using the per 100g column in the nutrition information panel.
- Read the ingredients list.
- Look beyond terms such as ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ and ‘fresh.’
To read the full CHOICE report into food and trademarking and to access print ready images contact Ingrid on the number below.
 The products were assessed against nutritional data provided by the George Institute for Global Health.
Ingrid Just, CHOICE, Head of Media and Spokesperson: 0430 172 669
To read more on CHOICE tests, reviews and campaigns, go to choice.com.au