Consumers don’t like to be manipulated, but brands manipulate us all the time. Case in point, a can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale highlights “Made from Real Ginger”, but “ginger” is nowhere to be found in the ingredient list, only “natural flavours”. As a consequence, consumers filed lawsuits to hold the brand accountable for false advertising.
It is a marketer’s job to influence consumers to buy a product. Some marketers will go to any lengths; twisting words, stretching the truth or outright lying. Not only is that deceptive marketing, it’s unethical and illegal. “Deceptive” is defined as “causing [a person] to believe what is not true, or fail to believe what is true”.
Health Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations exist to “help Canadians make healthy and informed choices about the foods they buy and eat”. The legislation applies to pre-packaged foods distributed by retail stores, restaurants, other foodservice establishments and airlines. Free samples must have compliant labelling too.
Legal requirements also extend to advertising, which includes websites, social media, store flyers and signage, all media and promotional vehicles.
The overarching rule is that food labelling and advertising must be “truthful and not misleading”. This opens up a big can of worms for food marketers.
Health Canada regulates at least ten types of claims, including health, nutrient content, nutrient function, disease risk reduction, negative (free-from), functional, composition, comparative, method of production and quality. Being able to navigate and understand the complex regulations requires a high level of expertise.
Product features and benefits in marketing copy are often considered “claims”. Just about anything you say about a product could be a claim. Even images can imply a claim and mislead consumers.
Here is a taste of some statements that are problematic:
My company tackles this challenge as part of our copywriting process, ensuring that marketing copy we create complies with food labelling regulations.
The truth will prevail and truth is based on facts. Use it as your yardstick, and have marketing copy reviewed by a regulatory specialist. Ignorance of the law is no defense.
Lots of brands circumvent the rules, making all kinds of non-compliant claims. If CFIA doesn’t step in, consumers who feel deceived will.
As a packaged foods consultant, Birgit Blain helps food brands comply with regulations. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at [email protected] or learn more at www.BBandAssoc.com
© Birgit Blain
This article appeared in Food in Canada magazine.