Complaint about frozen vegetables upheld

A claim by Birds Eye about the vitamin content of its frozen vegetables was unsubstantiated and misleading, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled.

It has ordered Birds Eye not to repeat the advertising, which claimed that its frozen vegetables contained 30 per cent more vitamins than fresh vegetables. The complaint, which covered poster and press ads, was made by Lord Lipsey, Chairman of Straight Statistics.

He said:  “ The ASA’s verdict hits the bullseye against Birds Eye. It is astonishing that a large and responsible company should base such a far-reaching claim on such inadequate evidence.”

The Birds Eye poster showed a toy bear holding a clip board seated next to a pack of Birds Eye Field Fresh Broccoli Florets. The test at the top read: “30 % more vitamins than fresh vegetables. I’ve just read the research” The ad included a reference to a 1998 study by D.J. Favell of Unilever’s Colworth laboratory, published in Food Chemistry, and to a study by the Instutute of Food Research into consumer behaviour.

The press ad included the same information but added: “Our vegetables are picked and frozen within hours so they retain more vitamins than fresh vegetables”. The ASA ruled that most consumers would understand from this that the freezing process did not imbue vegetables with more vitamins but rather delayed their deterioration in comparison to fresh vegetables, and ruled that this part of the ad was not misleading.

Birds Eye defended by claim by citing the 1998 study which showed that vitamin C levels were better retained in vegetables frozen immediately after harvest than in those distributed fresh and stored by supermarkets and consumers before consumption.

But the ASA ruled that the ads did not make it sufficiently clear that the claim was based only in vitamin C, which is a relatively unstable vitamin. The headline referred to vitamins in general, and that is how readers would interpret it. Nor did it make clear that the “fresh” vegetables being compared were not fresh out of the ground, but several days old, and that their loss of vitamin C depended upon how they had been stored. 

In the absence of a timeframe and storage method, the evidence was inadequate to justify the claim, the ASA said. It had not been substantiated and was misleading.

It further ruled – though this was not part of the complaint – that the claim was a breach of EC regulations governing nutritional claims. Birds Eye do not accept the ASA’s interpretation of the regulation. A second complaint about the wording of the press ad was not upheld. The full ruling is available on the ASA’s website.