Ben & Jerry's put 'natural' claim on ice

The cuddly ice cream brand has been forced to remove the words 'all natural' from its packaging. Time to thump a different tub?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
With its quirky flavours and kooky branding, it’s hard to imagine Ben & Jerry’s, the ‘nice guy’ of the ice cream world, putting a foot wrong when it comes to PR. But the brand has proven that even the mighty can have a marketing slip-up once in a while. The company has reluctantly withdrawn its claim that it uses ‘all-natural’ ingredients, after a watchdog pointed out that components like partially hydrogenated soya bean oil doesn’t exactly crop up in the wild. Somehow, though, Ben & Jerry’s has managed to come out of the whole scenario smelling of roses. Or a couple of scoops of Cherry Garcia, at least…

The Vermont-based company was criticised by US watchdog the Center for Science in the Public Interest for its mission statement, which claims it makes ‘the finest quality, all-natural ice-cream and euphoric concoctions’. A quick glance at the back of a tub of Ben & Jerry’s does rather seem to prove the CSPI’s claim that calling its ingredients ‘natural’ is stretching the truth a little. But these days, making ice cream that will last is almost impossible without adding a few trans-fats. The company’s chief executive, Jostein Solheim, argued in a letter to the watchdog that ‘reasonable customers’ would still consider food to be natural.

Nevertheless, Solheim has agreed to get rid of the claim, saying the company would ‘focus more strongly on our other core values’. One of the interesting points about Solheim’s decision is that it’s one of the first times a food manufacturer has removed a claim from its packaging without a bit of gentle encouragement from government – so it looks like Ben & Jerry’s is taking its reputation seriously. And it’s not like it needs that ‘natural’ claim – it already accrues plenty of (Chocolate Fudge) brownie points with the causes it champions, which range from global warming to free-range farming, and by publicising the fact it only uses fair trade suppliers and milk from farms which don’t use bovine growth hormones.

One company that has been less than gracious about one of its claims, though, is pomegranate juice company POM. The company is under fire from the Federal Trade Commission in the US over an ad that claimed drinking it causes a ‘30% decrease in arterial plaque’ and ‘17% improved blood flow’. The FTC has called the statements ‘false and unsubstantiated’. But POM has been stubborn about it, forcing the FTC to launch a lawsuit – and, in true US style, the juice manufacturer has launched its own counter-suit. We’re none the wiser about what’s happening now.

‘The government is wasting taxpayer resources to persecute the pomegranate,’ said a POM spokesperson this week. Which proves that, at the very least, it still has a sense of humour.

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