Not so long ago Heinz/Farley’s was trying to gain free publicity for its formula by claiming it was the cheapest on the market.
It distributed fliers such as the one shown below to health workers encouraging them to promote it as the ‘best formula’ at the ‘best price’, highlighting that it could be afforded using vouchers in the welfare food scheme.
They also press released the claim of being the cheapest formula, gaining coverage in the national media. We complained about this back-door advertising strategy to the UK Advertising Standards Authority, but received a typically dismissive response from the ASA.
As many mothers in the UK are now experiencing, Farley’s ‘best formula, best price’ strategy was a little misleading. It has launched a new formula called ‘Nurture’ (in itself and idealizing claim) with new ingredients. Perhaps Heinz would argue that its old formula was the best even without these ingredients, but it shows how dishonest such promotion is. ‘Best formula’ is meaningless, when the formula is not only a poor second to breastmilk (which contains many ingredients that are as yet unidentified or impossible to synthesize to add to formula), but also to the formula which the marketing department is waiting to launch onto the market. Heinz may argue that its new formula is the ‘best formula’. All companies claim the same thing, making it impossible to judge from their information which is really the best. See:
Heinz/Farley’s hopes to pick up customers (from other formula companies and from breastfeeding) by giving the impression that ‘best’ means the same as ‘good’. It doesn’t. It means as good as it can be given the current level of understanding of why breastfed infants are healthier than formula fed ones, the current state of processing technology and the current interest of making claims about ingredients. Infants fed on it will be sicker in the short and long term. That is not ‘good’. That is not ‘best’. It may be the only alternative for some babies who cannot be breastfed and do not have access to donated milk. It is a better option than other milks which are even more harmful. Formula is an important and necessary nutritional medicine, but it is marketed in a way that suggests it is a lifestyle choice and that the ‘best formula’ is not really any different from breastmilk, and may be even better.
New ingredients are not even added because they are shown to provide benefits to infants. Indepedent reviews of evidence for past additions such as LCPs and prebiotics has shown no benefits, despite company claims. This is why it is not a legal requirement to add them to formula. Our position is that anything that is important to reduce the risk to formula-fed infants should be added to all formula. The authorities who examine the research for ingredients in the European Union and elsewhere have found the case for adding these ingredients is not supported. As an investment company said regarding Martek, which makes most of the LCPs used in formula, see:
—Hambrecht and Quist on Formulaid (an LCP cocktail)
The history of infant formula has shown that virtually all similar examples have led to wide-scale introduction of such additives into infant formula, even if there was no evidence that the additives were important. Infant formula is currently a commodity market with all products being almost identical and marketers competing intensely to differentiate their product. Even if Formulaid had no benefit we think that it would be widely incorporated into most formulas as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as ‘closest to human milk.’
The Heinz/Farley’s strategy shows clearly how this strategy works. Its new formula is appreciably more expensive than the old, £3.00 per tin more expensive, some mothers are complaining. That is what the marketing department thinks its new claims are worth.
Which brings us to the second part of the betrayal. Having marketed its formula as the cheapest, Heinz/Farley’s has removed it from the market. Mothers who budgeted to use this formula, perhaps making decisions on whether to breastfeed and how and when to return to work, suddenly find their plans have to be re-written, which may not be possible.
There are many other aspects of this product launch to be explored, from the validity, or otherwise, of the claims, the marketing campaign, the labelling and the targeting of health workers.
We will continue to monitor and to campaign for more effective regulation to protect breastfeeding and to protect babies fed on formula. As ever, your support for this, both practical and financial, is essential.