BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Finds Saputo Can Support Challenged Claims for String Cheese Products

New York, NY – Dec. 17, 2015 – The National Advertising Division has determined that Saputo Cheese, USA, Inc., maker of string cheese products, can support the advertising claims challenged by competitor Lactalis American Group.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Lactalis challenged claims made on product packaging and online for Saputo’s “Original” and “Light” Cheese Heads string cheese products, and private label string cheese products.

NAD examined express claims that included:

  • “Low-Moisture, Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese”
  • “Light Low-Moisture, Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese”
  • “Naturally Nutritious”

The challenger argued that the advertiser’s products contain artificial phosphate and fillers, which are impermissible ingredients under the Food and Drug Administration’s standard of identity for “low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese” and mislead consumers as to the true constitution of the products they are purchasing. The challenger further disputed the advertiser’s characterization of its products as “Natural” on the basis of added phosphate and fillers.  The advertiser argued that phosphorus is a nutritious and healthy mineral that exists naturally in all cheeses, phosphorus levels naturally vary across all types of cheese and the phosphorus in its products are well within the range of levels across several varieties of cheese including low-moisture, park-skim mozzarella.  The advertiser contended that the existence of phosphorus in its products does not automatically reflect the presence of synthetic phosphate. Further, Saputo asserted, its products are naturally produced and do not contain artificial ingredients.

NAD noted in its decision that it “accords great weight to FDA regulations and seeks to harmonize its efforts with those of the regulatory world.”   While NAD readily acknowledges that it has no authority to determine whether or not a product is “misbranded” as defined by FDA’s regulation,   it clearly has the authority to determine the messages reasonably conveyed advertising claims and can look to regulatory guidance to determine the truth and accuracy of those claims.

NAD noted that the FDA’s standard of identity for low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese sets forth the ingredients comprising such cheese and the milkfat content – between 30% and 45% calculated on a solids basis. Further, NAD noted, it was undisputed that the milk-fat content in Saputo’s products is between 30% and 45%.

In reviewing the product packaging claims and in the absence of any consumer perception data demonstrating the reasonable takeaway of such claims, NAD determined that consumers could reasonably understand the claim, “low-moisture, part-skim” mozzarella to mean that the string cheese product purchased is, in fact, “low-moisture, part-skim.”

Regarding Saputo’s “Naturally Nutritious” claims, the challenger argued that the presence of phosphorus should preclude the advertiser from promoting the products as “naturally nutritious.”  NAD disagreed, noting that the FDA has said it will maintain its policy … regarding the use of “natural,” as meaning that nothing artificial or synthetic … has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to be found in that food.

In the absence of consumer-perception data, NAD said, it could not conclude that consumers would have any expectations regarding the presence of phosphorus in the advertised product.  NAD also noted that the nutrition the product provides comes from its considerable milk content.

Following its review, NAD determined that the inclusion of phosphorus in the advertised product would not preclude the labeling and advertising of the products as “naturally nutritious.” Further, NAD said, such labeling didn’t appear to contravene FDA policy.

NAD concluded that the advertiser had provided a reasonable basis for its claim that the advertised products are, “low-moisture, part-skim” mozzarella cheese.  NAD further concluded that the advertiser had provided a reasonable basis for its “naturally nutritious” claim.

Saputo, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “supports NAD’s self-regulatory process and is grateful for the significant time and effort NAD and its staff took to consider this matter.”

Note: A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.