NAD Determines HIll’s Can Support Packaging Claims Made For ‘Healthy Development’ Puppy, Kitten Foods

New York, NY – May 28, 2009 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has determined that Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc., provided reasonable support for certain mobility and joint development claims made for the advertiser’s Science Diet Healthy Development pet foods. 

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, examined Hill’s advertising, following a challenge by P&G Pet Care, a maker of competing pet food products.

The claims at issue included:  

  • “Tested nutrition to promote healthy joint development and enhance mobility by 30% in 90 days” (for Science Diet Healthy Development Puppy).
  • “Precisely balanced nutrition, proven to ensure ideal body weight” (for Science Diet Healthy Development Puppy and Kitten).

As a preliminary matter, NAD noted that it is undisputed that both the challenger and advertiser produce high-quality pet foods designed to meet the nutritional needs of growing and adult dogs and cats.

At the outset of NAD’s inquiry, Hill’s modified its original packaging claim, “tested nutrition to promote healthy joint development and enhance mobility by 30% in 45 days,” to state “30% in 90 days” a decision that NAD thought was necessary and proper.

NAD noted that both the advertiser and the challenger are in agreement that polyunsaturated fatty acids like Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are associated with healthy joints. Further, both parties agreed that a ten-month study on beagle puppies that were fed Science Diet (“The Zicker Study”) demonstrated that puppies fed Science Diet had higher concentrations of DHA and EPA present in their blood than the puppies in the control groups.

Further, other clinical reports on DHA and EPA provided by both parties demonstrated that these fatty acids contribute to the development of many important functions in addition to joint health, such as intelligence, visual acuity, bone formation, development and modeling in weanling and adult mammals.

Following its review of the evidence, NAD determined that the advertiser had a reasonable basis for claiming that DHA and EPA are associated with healthy joint development.  Furthermore, NAD considered the specific wording of the claim –“tested nutrition to promote healthy joint development” – and determined that the plain meaning of promoting healthy joint development is that Science Diet contributes to the progress or growth of healthy joints, a message that is supported by the record because of the high levels of DHA and EPA in the Science Diet fed-puppies’ blood serum.

NAD further determined that the claim “tested nutrition . . . to enhance mobility by 30% in 90 days” did not offer a comparison to other brands of dog food; rather, the claim compared the performance of the puppies in the Zicker study before and after they had been fed the advertiser’s dog food. 

NAD also determined that the plain reading of the claim made it clear that only the puppies’ mobility was “enhance[d] by 30% in 90 days” and that the phrase “30% in 90 days” did not quantify a time frame for healthy joint development.  In the absence of reliable consumer perception evidence, NAD thought it was unlikely that consumers would be confused by these claims.

Finally, NAD determined that the advertiser provided a reasonable basis for its claim “precisely balanced nutrition, proven to ensure ideal body weight” for its Science Diet Healthy Development Puppy and Kitten foods.  In arriving at this conclusion, NAD determined that the advertiser is entitled to the presumption that consumers will read their instructions and use their products accordingly, and in the studies provided the puppies and kittens achieved healthy weights.  Indeed the kittens, who were permitted to eat as much as they wanted, also reached healthy weights.

In its advertiser’s statement, Hill’s said it is “pleased that NAD determined that all of the advertising claims challenged by P&G Pet Care in this case are fully substantiated. Hill’s is a longtime supporter of the self-regulatory process, and appreciates NAD’s attention and diligence in this matter.”