Nutritional products generally market themselves based on what they contain and, even more so, on the amounts of the various substances they contain. And its probably a safe bet to assume that, for the most part, the average citizen simply accepts these claims at face value. After all, why would a company that sells nutrition products make a false claim? “Somewhat false" we naturally tend to assume, of course. But blatantly false claims from well known and established companies? This is a hypothetical that we tend to rule out as we walk down the aisle of a heath food store or wander about in the vitamin section of a large retailer.
Unfortunately, as one case so clearly demonstrates, nutritional claims from food and drink companies may not always be legitimate.
In a recent example that puts our trust in such things to a test, high school students Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo, age 17, did an experiment three years ago with their favorite soft drink, Ribena, and found that although Ribena’s claim to fame was having ‘four times the vitamin C of oranges’, there was no measurable amount of vitamin C to be found.
Ribena is the fourth biggest drinks brand in the UK and is sold in over 20 countries. A product of global pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline, Ribena was created in the 1930’s. The makers claim on their website that in the 1940’s the product was ‘rationed during WW2 as a vitamin C supplement for children because the supply of oranges to Britain dried up’.
In 2001, Ribena and Ribena Toothkind launched an ad campaign with the phrase, ‘Rich in Vitamin C, Rich in Memories’, and went live on both TV and in Press communications.
In 2004, Devathasan and Suo executed their school experiment and contacted GlaxoSmithKline, as well as the Commerce Commission, to report their findings. Although they received no response from the British-based pharmaceuticals and healthcare company, prosecutors brought charges against GlaxoSmithKline this month in an Auckland court.
Headquartered in the UK and with operations based in the US, GlaxoSmithKline is one of the industry leaders, with an estimated seven percent of the world's pharmaceutical market. They market products such as the smoking replacement Nicorette, Aquafresh toothpaste, paracetamol-based pain reliever Panadol, and state on their website that Ribena is a ‘nutritional healthcare drink’.
The company has admitted that they misled consumers about the content of vitamin c, a popular Vitamins Stuff , a site that offers information on Vitamins and Alternative Medicine .