NAD Recommends Heartland Discontinue “99% Natural” Claims For Ideal-Brand Sweetener; Company To Appeal

New York, New York – Jan. 11,  2010 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that Heartland Sweeteners, LLC, discontinue certain advertising claims made for its Ideal-brand  sweetener. The company has said it will appeal NAD’s decision to the National Advertising Review Board.

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, examined claims made on product packaging, in Internet and print advertising and in other promotional materials, following a challenge by Merisant Company, the maker of artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. The company also makes Pure Via, a natural product made from the stevia plant.

As a preliminary matter, the advertiser noted that it has discontinued all claims of “100%” or “all-natural,” including advertising containing the claims, “Natural! No calorie Sweetener,” “everyone loves IDEAL, the new natural sweetener that tastes like sugar, bakes like sugar, without the calories.”

NAD reviewed advertising claims that included:

  • “Natural! NO CALORIE SWEETENER!”
  • “Everyone loves Ideal, the new natural sweetener, that tastes like sugar, bakes like sugar, without the calories.”
  • “More than 99% Natural”
  • “Ideal is the perfect alternative to sugar and sugar substitutes because it … is made with Xylitol, a natural sweetener found in fruits and vegetables.”
  • “What’s so special about Xylitol? … All-natural, looks and tastes just like sugar … Our bodies produce Xylitol as part of everyday metabolism.”
  • “Ideal replacement in your sugar bowl … Sweeten the natural way!”
  • “What makes Ideal different than the other no calorie sweeteners on the market currently? … More than 99% natural.”

The challenger asserted that all major artificial sweeteners on the market use corn-based bulking agents as their largest ingredient, in addition to a minor amount of artificial high-intensity sweetener.  For example, the challenger noted, Equal contains mostly Unidex, a bulking agent, with a small amount (approximately 3% by weight) of aspartame, the artificial sweetener.

The challenger argued that the Ideal product, which contains the artificial sweetener sucralose, is no different, except that it also combines Unidex with a natural sweetener, Xylitol.

The advertiser contended that Xylitol, the natural sweetener in Ideal, is the main ingredient, followed by Unidex and a small amount of sucralose. Further, the advertiser noted, Xylitol confers certain dental health benefits and may assist in calorie control and blood glucose levels, and reduce ear infections. 

Following its review of the evidence, including the results of tests conducted on Ideal by the challenger, NAD noted that it was undisputed that Ideal contains sucralose, a  man-made sweetening agent that is not found in nature.  At the same time, it is undisputed that the advertiser’s Ideal formulation, by weight, is mostly Xylitol with a small amount of sucralose.

NAD stated in its decision that the question “is whether those particular ingredients which account for a product’s sweetness – when that product is touted as a ‘more than 99% natural’ sweetener – are in fact natural, as consumers might reasonably believe.”

“While it is true that, by weight, the product as a whole may be ‘more than 99% natural,’” the decision states, “NAD precedent makes clear that although a claim may be literally true, the context in which it is presented may still cause it to convey a message that is false or misleading to consumers.”

According to the evidence in the record, NAD noted, the product’s sweetness is not due primarily to Xylitol but, rather, the synthetic sucralose it contains and the artificial ingredients that make up one percent of the advertiser’s product are not inconsequential or insignificant. Given that the artificial sweetener contained in the product provides approximately 80% of the product’s sweetness and considering the audience to whom the product is directed – health conscious consumers seeking low or no-calorie sugar substitutes (or sweetening agents) that are not artificial – NAD determined that it was not accurate for the advertiser to promote its artificial sweetener, Ideal, as “natural” or as “more than 99% natural” or as being “different from the other no calorie sweeteners on the market [because it is]  More than 99% natural”, and recommended that the advertiser discontinue these claims. 

The company, in its advertiser’s statement, said “NAD’s decision protects the interests of incumbent, non-sugar sweetener manufacturers, some of whom have launched a new ‘natural’ sweetening product made from rebaudioside A (derived from Stevia).  Thus, under NAD’s ruling, while producers of reb-A products may advertise that their products are ‘natural,’ Heartland may henceforth not claim that its Ideal product is any more natural than saccharine.  This decision could harm the public interest by depriving consumers of truthful, relevant, and helpful information on the foods they purchase.”

“Because the NAD’s ruling is factually unsupported and may have dramatic and unintended adverse consequences for the market for non-sugar sweeteners, Heartland intends to appeal NAD’s findings to the NARB.”