NAD FINDS “NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP” CLAIM ALONGSIDE “HELLMANN’S REAL KETCHUP” ON LABEL NOT MISLEADING; RECOMMENDS OTHER CHANGES.

New York, NY – Jan. 16, 2019 – The National Advertising Division has found that Unilever United States, Inc.’s  claim “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” for its Hellmann’s REAL Ketchup product and the product name were sufficiently separated on the product label and did not convey the misleading message that the products containing high fructose corn syrup are not real, following a challenge by Kraft Heinz Foods Company, maker of Heinz Ketchup. However, NAD recommended modification of other claims.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The challenged express claims, appearing on the advertiser’s website, its product label and on social media platforms included:

  • “As we watched the foods we eat evolve and be better for us, we noticed that ketchup had not kept up. So we decided to change that. Our ketchup is made with only simple, high quality ingredients.”
  •  “Hellmann’s REAL Ketchup – No High Fructose Corn Syrup.”
  •  “We started by asking ourselves what should be in ketchup and what should not. The results: Hellmann’s REAL Ketchup made with only 6 real, simple ingredients.”
  •  “Moms prefer to serve their children Hellmann’s Real Ketchup over Heinz Original Ketchup” and “Moms prefer Hellmann’s over Heinz.”
  • “The best Ketchup I’ve ever tried.”
  • Claim in the influencer campaign that Hellmann’s Real Ketchup is “better-for-you” and “healthier” as compared to other “evil” and “fake” ketchups.

Kraft Heinz contended that Unilever’s comparative advertising claims falsely disparaged other brands of ketchup by characterizing high fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”) as something that should not be in ketchup and reasonably implied that Heinz Original Ketchup is not real, is less healthy or should not be eaten because it contains HFCS, and that ketchup made without HFCS is “healthier” or “better for you.” It further argued that the disparaging nature of these claims was emphasized in social media influencer posts. The challenger also asserted that the testimonial, “The best Ketchup I’ve ever tried,” conveyed an unsupported taste superiority message and that the claim, “Moms prefer to serve their children Hellmann’s Real Ketchup over Heinz Original Ketchup” was unsupported.

Unilever defended its claims stating that its “real” positioning has been central to the Hellmann’s brand identity since the 1930s and explained that its “real” claims are rooted more broadly in its ketchup’s short, simple, and familiar ingredient list. It argued that these claims were merely vague boasts, not denigration targeting competing ketchups. It also characterized the testimonial, “The Best Ketchup I’ve Ever Tried” as puffery and asserted that its “moms prefer” claim was supported by a robust consumer preference survey.

NAD first reviewed Unilever’s website claim, “As we watched the foods we eat evolve and be better for us, we noticed that ketchup had not kept up. So we decided to change that. Our ketchup is made with only simple, high quality ingredients.” NAD determined that these statements reasonably convey to consumers that (1) other foods have evolved to be “better for us,” (2) ketchups have not, and (3) Hellmann’s changed that, implying that its ketchup product is the result of that change. While the term “better” may sometimes be used in a puffy, subjective manner, NAD noted that the complete phrase used here is “better for us”—an expression frequently used to indicate that a food product is comparatively healthier than another. NAD concluded that one reasonable interpretation of this claim is that Hellmann’s REAL Ketchup is healthier than other ketchups—a claim unsupported by the record. Accordingly, NAD recommended that this claim be discontinued.

NAD reached a different conclusion regarding Hellmann’s front label where the product name appeared next to a claim about product’s lack of HFCS. NAD determined that Unilever’s separation of the two claims “Hellmann’s REAL Ketchup” and “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” sufficiently limits the takeaways from the claims, and thus reasonably conveys two distinct messages.

The advertiser’s Instagram page states, “We started by asking ourselves what should be in ketchup and what should not. The results: Hellmann’s REAL Ketchup made with only 6 real, simple ingredients.” This claim is accompanied by a short video. NAD noted that neither the text of the post nor the video refer to HFCS. The only place where the claim “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” appears is on the product label which is shown for less than is second and is not readable on a cell phone screen, the manner in which the vast majority of people use Instagram. NAD concluded that the post did not convey to consumers that products containing HFCS were not real or unhealthy.

As for the social media influencer posts characterizing Hellmann’s Real Ketchup as “better-for-you” and “healthier” in comparison to other ketchups and stating that ketchup containing HFCS was “evil” and “fake,” Unilever informed NAD that these posts did not align with its intended marketing message and that it had permanently discontinued those claims. The voluntarily discontinued social media claims will be treated, for compliance purposes, as though NAD recommended their discontinuance and the advertiser agreed to comply.

In support of its claim that “Moms prefer to serve their children Hellmann’s Real Ketchup over Heinz Original Ketchup,” the advertiser provided a survey in which participants reviewed the ingredient lists for Hellmann’s Real Ketchup and Heinz Original Ketchup and responded to the question, “Which would you prefer to give your children?” According to the advertiser, 66% of the surveyed mothers and 60% of the total respondent pool indicated a preference for Hellmann’s Real Ketchup, substantiating its claim.

While NAD found the survey to be well-conducted, it determined that the challenged claim conveys a broader message than the survey could support—that mom’s prefer to serve their children Hellmann’s over Heinz ketchup based on its taste. As such NAD recommended Unilever modify its claim to make clear that the stated preference was based solely on a review of the blinded product ingredient lists and modify the visual presentation of the claim to avoid conveying the misleading claim that “Mom’s Prefer Hellmann’s Over Heinz.”

Lastly, NAD determined that, as worded, the testimonial, “The Best Ketchup I’ve Ever Tried,” accompanied by a disclaimer explaining that it was from a consumer who had received free product, would likely curtail any possible consumer expectation that their experience will be the same. NAD concluded that this testimonial conveyed that it was an individual opinion and did not convey a typicality message requiring support.

In its advertiser’s statement, Unilever stated that it will comply with NAD’s recommendations and that is was pleased that NAD agrees that the product name “Hellmann’s Real Ketchup” and the claim “No High Fructose Corn Syrup,” together, aas presented on the label do not convey the message that products containing high fructose corn syrup are not “real.” Unilever also stated that it was pleased that the NAD had no issue with (1) the testimonial “The Best Ketchup I Ever Tried” and (2) the claim “Moms prefer to serve their children Hellmann’s Real Ketchup over Heinz Original Ketchup,” qualified to more fully state the basis of the claim.

Note: A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.

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About Advertising Industry Self-Regulation:  The Advertising Self-Regulatory Council establishes the policies and procedures for advertising industry self-regulation, including the National Advertising Division (NAD), Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), National Advertising Review Board (NARB), Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP) and Online Interest-Based Advertising Accountability Program (Accountability Program.) The self-regulatory system is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

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