Who: Nomad Foods Europe t/a Birds Eye (“Birds Eye”), Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”)
When: 1 June 2016
Law stated as at: 18 July 2016
The ASA investigated complaints about whether a TV ad for the Birds Eye “Stir your senses” range of ready meals broadcast on 24 January 2016 exaggerated portion size and was therefore misleading and breached BCAP Code rule 3.1
The ad showed a couple in a kitchen heating up a pasta ready meal (Tagliatelle con Porcini) on the stove. One ready meal packet was seen next to the stove. The ad then moved on to show two other products being prepared on a stove and a woman was seen eating one of the products in a bowl.
The complaint was that the portions shown on screen were larger than those contained within the ready meal packets.
Birds Eye responded to the investigation by explaining that all of the ready meals were sold in single serve sizes for adults. They highlighted that the ad showed two adults in the scene with Tagliatelle con Porcini and this meant that consumers would expect more than one single serve packet to be used to feed the couple. They stated that the food shown in the bowl was one portion but they had used slightly more in the pan shots to reflect that the scene depicted a couple preparing a meal.
Clearcast responded that they had cleared the script at pre-production but that they made it clear that the advertiser had to ensure that the contents and quality of one standard pack of food was not exaggerated. Clearcast went on to say that, when they received the final ad, they were under the impression that this guidance had been followed and therefore approved the ad.
The ASA upheld the complaint and stated that Birds Eye had exaggerated the portion size of their ready meals in this ad. They based this on the following:
- the opening scene showed a couple preparing a meal with only one packet shown and at the end of the ad the same couple were shown eating a meal. It follows that consumers would interpret that the amounts shown would equate to one packet of the product; and
- the ASA bought and prepared the Tagliatelle con Porcini and cooked it in accordance with the instructions. They considered that the pan and bowl shots in the ad contained more pasta and mushrooms than in the real-life version prepared at the ASA.
Therefore the ad was held to be misleading and breached BCAP Code rule 3.1.
Why this matters:
In many ways Birds Eye has been caught between two stools with this ad. Recent news coverage and government discussions have centred on healthy food included reducing salt and sugar quantities and moderating portion size. However, it is recognised that smaller portions are less attractive to consumers and marketers may be tempted to increase the portion size both in TV and print ads to make the product more appealing to consumers.
Following this ruling, food companies and advertisers should take care not to mislead consumers over portion size. The ASA is likely to interpret ads strictly in this area – for example, in the Birds Eye ad the fact that two people were depicted was not sufficient to show more than one portion of food. The overriding aspect was that there was only one ready meal packet shown on screen. This appears to have influenced the ASA into ruling that the ad was misleading.
Marketers and advertisers both in the food industry, and more widely, should take note that they should not imply that any product shown on screen represents the contents of only one packet if this is not the case.