Self-Regulatory Documents

Just Like Grandma Used to Make: ASA considers what makes biscuits "traditional"

Mon, 06 Mar 2017

February 15, 2017

Last month, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considered a complaint about biscuits made with a "traditional recipe".

A long-running Chanui television advertisement claimed that Chanui biscuits "taste great because we use traditional recipes and top quality ingredients".

The claim raised questions for one viewer, who thought that the ingredients listed on the packet were far from "traditional".  In particular, key ingredients included palm oil and hydrogenated palm oil - both of which, the complainant argued, are relatively new to the market and the second of which requires industrial processes to produce it. In the complainant's opinion, Chanui's use of these "non-traditional" ingredients meant the "traditional recipes" claim was misleading.

Are industrially processed ingredients traditional?

The Complaints Board focused on the ingredients included in the biscuits as opposed to the processes involved in making them. In particular, it relied heavily on Chanui's response, which stated that their biscuits are based on family recipes that use butter and margarine - an ingredient that contains palm oil and hydrogenated palm oil.

Overall, the Complaints Board considered that the use of the word "traditional" had little meaning - and did not negate the use of certain industrially-processed ingredients such as hydrogenated palm oil, which is a common component of many ingredients traditionally used in biscuit ingredients such as margarine. Instead, the ASA took the view that the overall impression was that the biscuits could be likened to "home-made fare, the sort a grandmother might have made". Consequently, the Complaints Board ruled to Not Uphold the complaint.

While the Complaints Board focused on the biscuit’s ingredients, and not the process by which the biscuits were made, we would sound a note of caution about referring to any traditional or artisan food making process without having the ability to back that up. This has been a strong point of contention between industrial and artisan food producers overseas, and we expect that contention to eventually play out in the New Zealand market, too.

You can read the ASA's full decision here.

What does this mean for you?

Consumers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from and how it is processed, meaning that many are often prepared to pay a premium for goods that they consider to be more "wholesome", "artisan" or "traditional".

If businesses make false claims about the nature of their products, consumer confidence will suffer - along with the businesses that do live up to their claims.

That means that regulators will keep a close eye on those who make false or misleading claims about the nature of their products. Under the Fair Trading Act 1986 (Act), false or misleading claims are prohibited, and businesses found to be in breach of the Act can face significant penalties.

Accordingly, if you want to make claims about your products, you should ensure that:

  • your claims are accurate, truthful and clear to consumers;
  • the overall impression of advertisements is accurate and will not mislead consumers; and
  • you use puffery or exaggerated claims carefully and obviously.

If you have any doubts about your food labelling practices, just give us a call. We are always happy to help.


Thanks to Simpson Grierson Contributors Ciska Derijk and Fiona Ryan for this article - [email protected], [email protected]