NAD Examines Advertising for Abbott’s Earlyshield, Following Challenge by ‘Good Start’ Maker Nestle

New York, New York – August 18, 2009 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that Abbott Nutrition modify or discontinue certain claims made for its EarlyShield infant formula. NAD found, as well, that the advertiser can support the claim that the EarlyShield blend helps support an infant’s natural/developing immune system.

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, examined advertising for EarlyShield following a challenge by Nestle Infant Nutrition, the maker of Good Start Baby Formula.

NAD reviewed comparative superiority, efficacy and performance claims made on product packaging and in Internet and print advertising – including an educational brochure for physicians that displayed a chart depicting the characteristics of EarlyShield, Good Start and a third formula. Claims at issue included:

Express Claims

  • “…the first and only infant formula….with “prebiotics, nucleotides and antioxidants…naturally found in breast milk.”
  • This new blend is superior to other infant formulas because it is designed to be “[c]loser than ever to breast milk”….to provide “more advantages” (as compared to other competitor’s formulas, including that of the challenger) and “to help build a strong immune system.”
  • “EarlyShield is like breast milk in its ability to soften stools, reduce diarrhea, curb the growth of harmful bacteria, and fight infection.”
  • Comparative charts claiming that EarlyShield provides numerous health “advantages” that the challenger’s Good Start Natural Cultures does not provide.
  • Comparisons between probiotics and prebiotics and the suggestion that its infant formula is superior to, and provides “more advantages” than, those with probiotics:
  • EarlyShield’s “[p]rebiotics stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria, which helps support your baby’s developing immune system,” whereas probiotics are live bacteria added to foods “such as yogurt…”

Implied Claims

  • Infants fed EarlyShield will develop as immune system either as “strong” or nearly as “strong” as a breastfed infant.
  • That ingesting EarlyShield will result in “good health for your baby”
  • EarlyShield is superior to infant formulas without this added mix of ingredients.

NAD noted in its decision that it has previously recognized that infant formula “may be the sole source of nutrition,” for an infant and that parents viewing formula advertising are particularly vulnerable to strong performance claims.  NAD noted, as well, that interest in pre- and probiotics has grown dramatically as both consumers and health professionals discover the potential health benefits associated with their use.

The advertiser noted that Similac Advanced EarlyShield Formula is a design improvement over its earlier Similac Advance formulation. The new formula contains 4 g/L galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) – non-digestible molecules shown to be effective as prebiotics as they selectively stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria.  The advertiser noted that the new formula also contains a proprietary blend of antioxidants and nucleotides, benefiting a developing immune system. The advertiser contended that the claims convey to consumers that the new EarlyShield formula is more like breast milk than its earlier product because it contains more of the ingredients contained in breast milk, which help support a baby’s developing immune system. Further, the advertiser noted that it stopped using the chart at issue at the initiation of NAD’s inquiry.

Following its review of the evidence in the record, which included the results of several studies that examined GOS supplementation in infant formula, NAD recommended that that the advertiser’s educational brochure – including the comparative chart within the brochure – and Website be modified to make clear that the claims referencing breast milk compare a previous formulation of EarlyStart to the current formulation.

NAD determined that the advertiser’s evidence collectively provided a reasonable basis for more limited qualified claims about the potential benefits of its EarlyShield formula with prebiotics, but recommended that the advertiser modify the claims to more narrowly tailor the claims to match the level of supporting research.

NAD found that the advertiser provided a reasonable basis for claims that the EarlyShield formula or blend helps support an infant’s developing immune system, helps reduce the incidence of diarrhea, and can help soften stools. 

However, NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue implied comparative claims (including claims in the comparative chart) that its prebiotic, nucleotide and antioxidant-supplemented formula helps develop or support the development of a baby’s system as compared to formulas without these specific ingredients.

With respect to the advertiser’s claim “The first and only infant formula that has the EarlyShield blend to support baby’s natural immune system,” NAD recommended that the advertiser modify the claim to avoid any implied comparative superior performance benefit. 

NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue claims referencing a reduction in upper respiratory tract infections, as well as the claim that EarlyShield, with its specific antioxidants, “helps protect…skin.” NAD further recommended that the advertiser modify the claim that EarlyShield “helps protect eyes.”

NAD noted that it appreciated the advertiser’s voluntary agreement to discontinue the comparative claims made in the chart at issue. NAD further recommended that a similar chart, entitled, “Our closest formula to breast milk in an innovative package,” be discontinued as well.

Finally, NAD determined that the advertiser’s catch-phrase – “the e is the key” – implies a comparative superiority claim to products that include probiotics, rather than pre-biotics, a message the evidence does not support. NAD recommended the advertiser discontinue the claim in its current context.

Abbott, in its advertiser’s statement, said that it “appreciates NAD’s guidance and will modify its current online-line advertising accordingly.  Abbott will also take NAD’s comments into account in developing its future print advertising.”