Claims On Soft Drink Labels

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A "claim" in relation to a soft drink can be defined as any written or graphical descriptive matter that is brought to the attention of the public referring to the characteristics or properties of a product. It should be noted that as labeling legislation often applies to advertising of any sort, this definition would be extended to any statement or communication, written or verbal, in the media and on billboards, that refers to the characteristics and properties of a soft drink.

Soft drinks of various types are placed in the market with labels bearing claims that aim to attract the attention of target market consumers to the properties and possible benefits of the particular type of drink. The following is a brief presentation of the more common claims encountered in the soft drink market and the legal labeling implications.

Prohibited Claims

Some prohibited claims were mentioned at the beginning of this chapter in the "General Presentation" section. In addition to these, food laws usually prohibit a claim or any implication that a soft drink has special properties, when other similar drinks possess the same properties. For example, it would be prohibited to claim that a soft drink has had its water specially treated. Most, if not all, soft drink producers practice water treatment in their manufacturing processes.

Sometimes an ingredient of nutritional nature is added to a soft drink formulation for pure technical or sensory reasons. A typical case would be ascorbic acid (vitamin C) added as an antioxidant. Because of this, it would not be acceptable, for example, to place a flash "vitamin C added" or something similar on the label without a nutrition information table reflecting this "vitamin enrichment."

Nutritional Claims

The most frequently encountered claims for soft drinks are those Claims related to nutritional bene- related to nutritional issues. As explained in the next section of fits^ are the most c°mm°n in soft this chapter, a nutritional claim will require, by legislation, clear-

drinks cut nutrition information relevant to the claim made. Each category of claims, such as "low calorie," "enriched with," "high energy," "no sugar added," etc., is usually dealt with in dedicated category-specific regulations, either in those of the labeling legislation or other subject-specific food laws.

Whatever the nature of the claim, the regulations will normally address the essential nutrition science background details of the subject so that not much can be misinterpreted as to what is required in the prescribed nutrition information for the label. (In fact, this background information could sometimes be used as "textbook" information for the novice nutrition scientist.)

The following is a brief listing of the more common nutritional claims found in our industry:

Reduced energy: For this type of claim, the regulation will stipulate the maximum energy content allowed as a percentage (X%) of the energy content of a similar drink for which no such claim is made. In other words, a low-energy cola should not have more than X% energy content over that of a regular sugar-sweetened cola beverage. This X% can vary from country to country, but 50 to 80% would be a reasonable figure.

Diet/low energy: For this claim, the regulation will stipulate an absolute maximum energy content in the beverage. This could be as low as 30 kJ per 100 ml of beverage in ready-to-drink form.

Slimming claim: Not many soft drinks specifically, in so many words, claim to be slimming aids and will assist in weight reduction or weight control. However, the mere wording of "diet" in a product description could be taken to indicate this. Therefore, if a "slimming" claim seems to be implied, it would be required to make a statement on the label to the effect that the product is "only effective as part of an energy-controlled balanced diet," or something similar. The regulation will usually have a well-worded prescribed statement to be used on the label.

Added/enriched: If it is claimed that a soft drink is enriched or fortified with one or more nutrients (such as vitamins, protein, minerals, and trace elements), it will require a detailed nutrition information section on the label with respect to such a claim. This nutrition information issue is discussed in the next section of this chapter.

Diabetic claim: Some food laws may make provision for a diabetic claim on applicable foodstuffs and stipulate the requirements, which include regulated parameters of "readily absorbable carbohydrates," "glycemic index," or other complex terminology related to the physiology of sugar metabolism in humans. However, most food laws strictly prohibit any diabetic claims on foodstuffs inclusive of soft drinks. This is for good reasons, of which the basic one is that we are not medical doctors, to whom such matters should be left. Suitable soft drinks may well be endorsed by diabetic organizations, but it is the responsibility of the consumers to ascertain that an endorsed product is suitable for its consumption by them. It is this author's considered opinion that soft drink manufacturers should totally refrain from labeling any claim of a diabetic nature on their products.

No sugar added: This is a complicated issue in food legislation. It all depends on how "sugar" is defined in the food laws of the country. This kind of claim is usually associated with fruit juice products, where it implies that the inherent natural sugars of the fruits (monosac-charides and disaccharides other than sucrose) are the sole sweetening agents in the beverage. This claim could also be misinterpreted by the less-aware consumer that the product is sugar-free, and hence, it is construed to mean the low-energy "diet" type of drink. This would not be a great disaster, but it could be if the consumer was diabetic. This "no sugar added" claim should be carefully addressed in conjunction with the food laws of the country concerned.

Other claims: There are many other types of nutritional claims on labels for a great diversity of soft drinks, such as sport recovery drinks, energy-boosting beverages, and health-providing herbal iced teas, to name a few. The general guideline here, in the absence of precise specific labeling legislation, and other applicable general food legislation, is to ensure that any such claims can be scientifically substantiated.

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