A bitte data on German health claims
Chris Ryder, University of Reading
It's clear that there is a similar level of cynicism in Germany when it comes to health claims on food packages. While many accept that there must be a certain amount of truth to these claims, there is a concern among the majority of German consumers for a more holistic approach to nutrition and diet, exemplified by one participant who said "It depends on what else I eat or drink during the day".
This is perfectly true, of course – we all know that the most important thing is to have a balanced diet! – but in Germany this seems to be a much more overarching concept. As a result, health claims referring to individual nutrients are not seen as especially useful, because you would have to organize your diet around foods that tackle each particular nutrient in turn rather than just eating healthily in a more general sense. This would also require every person having a lot of knowledge about nutrition and nutrients, which is not the case.
This feeling was borne out by interviews with food manufacturers operating in Germany, who don't tend to use health claims very much anyway because they know that consumers aren't very interested in them. (This made it much harder for us to construct our database of German health claims!) Using health claims is not usually worth the risks associated with altering the wording, so manufacturers much prefer to use nutrition claims – such as Low in fat or High in fibre – as these are "easier to handle".
Having said that, these representatives from industry did have high praise for the regulatory bodies in Germany, saying that they are "great to work with". These seem to operate in a similar way to the UK, where an initial complaint is made (often by competitors!) and then an investigation takes place, but in a way that takes into account the interests of the manufacturers and the difficulties they face in presenting health claims in a way that is both legal and marketable.
One thing that was unique to our German focus group participants was the creative solutions they suggested to help with the problem. One group suggested having a large board in supermarkets which has all the health claims information on it, so that consumers can read it all in one place and manufacturers don’t have to write claims on individual packs. Another group believed it would be good for packages to also tell you about the negative effects, such as It’s good for your immune system, but you wil also get fat because there’s just a lot of sugar in it! Who knows if these ideas will become reality…
If you have experience of health claims in Germany, whether as a consumer or a manufacturer, click the Contact Us link to get in touch with us – we'd love to hear your thoughts! Also, don't forget to click the Sign Up button to receive a notification every time there is a new blog post.