B.B.B. weighs in on General Mills-Campbell soup spat

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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NEW YORK — The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that General Mills, Inc., the Minneapolis-based maker of Progresso brand soups, discontinue comparative advertising that it said communicates inaccurate messages regarding MSG (monosodium glutamate) content in soups made by Camden, N.J.-based Campbell Soup Co.

The N.A.D., which is the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, examined advertising claims in print and on the Internet after Campbell called into question advertisements depicting side-by-side images of a can of Campbell’s soup and a can of General Mills’ Progresso soup (both chicken noodle). Above the can of Campbell’s soup, there was text stating "Campbell’s has 95 soups with MSG." Above the Progresso can, the text read "Progresso has 26 soups with no MSG."

According to Campbell, the ads imply that Progresso soups are a better choice for consumers looking for a soup without MSG.

In defending its ads, General Mills said they were designed to correct misinformation about Progresso being disseminated in Campbell’s advertising for its Select Harvest soups. According to General Mills, the challenged advertising truthfully and accurately informs consumers that there are 26 varieties of Progresso soups that do not contain MSG, and that Campbell’s has more than 90 varieties that do contain MSG. The advertising also stated that Progresso is removing MSG from the remainder of its soups.

In making its recommendation that General Mills discontinue the ads, N.A.D. noted that, while it is literally truthful that "Campbell’s has 95 soups made with MSG" and "Progresso has 26 delicious soups with no MSG," a consumer may understand the claim to communicate any number of messages about the brands and their relative MSG content, including the inaccurate message that Campbell’s soups are more likely to have MSG than Progresso soups, or that most Campbell’s varieties have MSG or a greater percentage of Campbell’s soups than Progresso soups have MSG.

Additionally, N.A.D. found that, although the advertising does not expressly state anything about the respective percentages of varieties that contain MSG, the comparison, which associates MSG with the competitor, conveys implied messages that were not supported by the underlying evidence.

General Mills has disagreed with N.A.D.’s findings.

"General Mills sought to defend its brand and truthfully inform consumers that … Progresso has soups that do not contain MSG and Campbell has soups that do contain MSG," General Mills said. "Nonetheless, General Mills appreciates the opportunity to participate in the self-regulatory program and will take NAD’s recommendations into account in future advertising."

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