The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that Benecol and archrival Flora pro.activ, two spreads which claim to reduce cholesterol, are unlikely to fulfil the health claims they advertise. Both companies, which had lodged complaints about each other’s advertising, said they have since amended their advertising material.

Benecol, produced by Finnish manufacturer Raisio, claimed it could reduce cholesterol by 14%, while Flora pro.activ, a product of Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever, typically went one better with a claim of 15% cholesterol reduction within three weeks.

The ASA’s ruling hinged on likely consumption of the spreads. While it did not deny such results were possible, it said consumers were unlikely to eat the quantities of the spread that would be necessary for such a dramatic reduction. This made the adverts misleading, found the ASA.

The Authority further decreed that both manufacturers failed to make sufficiently clear the link between an otherwise healthy diet, above and beyond the consumption of Benecol or Flora pro.activ, and the successful lowering of cholesterol levels.

The ruling will doubtless remind other manufacturers of so-called functional foods of quite how fragile a tightrope they are walking. While they need to talk up the health benefits of their products to persuade consumers to part with the premium price charged, they also need to be sure their claims are based not only on sound science but also on a realistic idea of consumer intake.

To read the statement by Unilever on the ASA ruling on Flora pro.activ and Benecol, click here.