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A Guide to Nutrition and Health Claims on Food Labels

A Guide to Nutrition and Health Claims on Food Labels

Health and nutrition claims are a fundamental tool that brands can use to showcase the benefits their products may offer. However, using claims in compliance with legal requirements is no easy task, and can be challenging to get right – even for the most practised of regulatory professionals.  

The use of claims must adhere to strict regulations to maintain a ‘fair playing field’ for brands and ensure consumers receive accurate and scientifically proven information about the foods they consume.  

Understanding these regulations and how to ensure food labelling compliance is crucial for any food business operating in the UK.  

In this guide, we explore the complex nature of food claims, focusing specifically on nutrition and health claims. Whether you are a consumer seeking clarity, or a food business striving for compliance, this guide offers valuable insights into the world of nutrition and health claims on food labels.  

Table of Contents

What is Classed as a Claim?

A ‘claim’ refers to any information or message about a food product, that is not mandatory by law and suggests or implies that the food holds certain positive qualities. Usually, it falls into three categories: general quality claims, nutrition, or health claims.  

General quality claims are statements or suggestions about the overall qualities of the food product. Nutrition and health claims are more specific statements. All must adhere to strict regulations. Below, we will explore nutrition, health, and general claims in greater detail.  

Understanding Nutrition Claims

A nutrition claim is any statement that suggests or implies that a food has beneficial nutritional properties. This can be related to energy (caloric value), the nutrients; proteins, sugars (carbohydrates), fats and salt (sodium) and vitamins and minerals.  

Examples of nutrition claims on food labels include ‘low fat’, ‘high in vitamin C’, ‘reduced fat’, or ‘high in fibre’.  

It is important to understand that any claims made by a food business about its products must be confirmed by sound nutritional evidence. Only certain nutrition claims can be made, listed in the annex of the regulations on health and nutrition claims. A business is only authorised to make these claims if the product satisfies the requirements outlined in the law, such as meeting the defined nutrient content levels and demonstrating this in the nutritional declaration on the back-of-pack. Specific terms such as ‘low’ or ‘high’ are also defined by the regulation.  

Comparative nutrition claims such as “20% less fat than X” are subject to further rules and add some complexity. For example, you must only compare with your own products, or a range of products from the same category, not a singular competitor’s product. The products you are comparing against must not qualify for the claim you intend to use; the comparisons must be based on the equivalent amount of food and state the difference in amounts of the components.

Understanding Health Claims

A health claim refers to a statement about the relationship between food and health benefits to the consumer. It implies that the consumption of food in the context of the overall diet has a beneficial effect on health. 

There are two types of Health Claims: Specific and General Non-Specific.

Specific health claims refer directly to an ingredient or ingredients that are responsible for providing the associated benefit. There are four parts to being able to use them: 

  1. Such a claim must be linked to a specific nutrient or substance in the food that has been shown to have that beneficial effect.  
  2. The nutrient or substance must have an authorised claim relating to that benefit, listed in the approved health claims register.
  3. If you make such a claim against a nutrient or substance in your food, it must contain a significant amount of that nutrient or substance, which is outlined in the law. 
  4. When a specific claim is made on your food packaging or elsewhere, the words used must be similar to the approved claim text in the regulation.  

General non-specific claims suggest or imply that consuming the product will provide certain benefits; for example, ‘healthy’ or ‘good for you’. Such claims can only be used in conjunction with a relevant health claim from the authorised list.

One example might be a high-protein shake. In the context of a health claim, it could have a general non-specific claim such as ‘Stronger you*’, with the relevant authorised health claim being ‘*Protein contributes to a growth in muscle mass’. The two statements would need to be linked to each other by an asterisk, and the product itself must meet the compositional and evidential requirements for using the approved claim.

Just like nutrition claims, health claims must also be scientifically accurate and evidence-based and using a health claim may trigger the need for other food labelling requirements such as a nutritional declaration or relevant warning statements on your labelling. Additionally, a statement encouraging the importance of a varied and balanced diet is also required.

The Difference Between Health and Nutrition Claims

While both nutrition and health claims are concerned with the benefits of consuming a food product, they approach it from different angles. A nutrition claim speaks directly about the nutritional content of the food, while a health claim speaks about the potential health benefits beyond the nutritional value associated with consuming the food.  

Understanding the difference is critical for food manufacturers. The UK food regulations treat the two types of claims very differently.  

You can use both health and nutrient content claims on your products if the product meets the specific conditions laid out in the nutrition and health claims regulations. It is also fine to use several claims on one product, providing it meets the required conditions of use.  

These regulations apply to nutrition and health claims made in all commercial communications, including labels, leaflets, websites and advertisements.  

GB (Great Britain) food labels making voluntary nutrition or health claims must comply with the requirements of assimilated Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 and the GB Nutrition and Health Claims Register. This lists all GB-authorised and rejected claims.  

Northern Ireland must continue to follow the EU (European Union) regulations.  

Claims must also comply with more general food labelling legislation that forbids any reference to a food as having the ability to prevent, treat or cure a human disease.  

For a food to carry a nutrition or health claim, the claim must be clear, accurate and based on scientific evidence. Furthermore, certain mandatory information must always be present, such as the name of the food, list of ingredients, allergen information, net quantity and durability date.  

It is important to note that this goes for all foods and beverages, regardless of whether they hold a nutrition or health claim. For a comprehensive understanding, refer to our in-depth articles on UK food labelling regulations and the information required on food labels.  

Proposed Legislative Reforms for Nutrition and Health Claims on UK Food

Post-Brexit, the UK Government is looking to take inherited EU law and turn it into national-centric legislation. Most of the food law we have is EU-derived law.  

In August 2023, the UK Government opened a new consultation on the Nutrition and Health Claims assimilated legislation. The comments made during the 3-month consultation period will inform their plans to reform the approval process for the regulation of nutrition and health claims in England.  

Food Improvement Notices for breaches of the Regulation have been introduced in England and Wales by The Nutrition and Health Claims (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2024. These will be in force on 1st October 2024, allowing Trading Standards departments to take a more proportionate approach to enforcing the regulations, by ordering a food business to change what they are saying about a food, without the need to start a criminal prosecution.  

It remains the intention of the UK government and devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales to minimise disruption to business. Therefore as ‘on hold’ claims are still under consideration, they may continue to be used in accordance with the 2014 Bulletin until a decision is made.

What happens if I don’t comply? 

Getting it wrong leaves your brand vulnerable to breaching the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code), and potential enforcement action for making misleading statements. Such action could cost more than just rebranding and marketing costs, but could lose your consumers’ trust, and brand reputation that will impact your bottom line.  

Support with Health and Nutrition Claim Guidance

Navigating the complex landscape of food labelling, especially concerning health and nutrition claims, remains difficult for brands. At Ashbury, our team of experts are here to support your business in understanding these regulations, helping you communicate the benefits of your product effectively and legally.  

We recommend you think about your value proposition and investigate the conditions of use of the claims you want to use before starting the product development process. This will ensure that when your product is created, it meets all the requirements set out by regulations.  

Failure to comply could mean having to reformulate the product entirely or dropping the use of any claims. Early preparation and planning could save you time and money eventually.  

Top Tip: Don’t forget that claims can be implied from pictures and the artwork you use too! Ashbury reviews your product and artwork to provide holistic guidance so you can meet your legal obligations and commercial ambitions.  

Get in touch with our client team today to discuss your labelling compliance process and how we can help.  

Caitlin Stewart, Marketing Manager

My background in Food Science and Marketing means I have a unique combination of commercial creativity and technical food manufacturing experience. My ambition is to bring clarity to the complex world of compliance through the simple and eye-catching communication of Ashbury's services.

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