Einstein was wrong. Energy does not equal mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. Rather, energy equals caffeine plus lots of sugar and unproved nutritional additives.
At least this is what the makers of so-called “energy and health drinks” would have consumers believe. These trendy “health” products occupy an increasingly growing sector of the beverage market in Uganda.
The consumer market is inundated with new products that promise to do much more than to quench thirst; they are presented as health drinks, sports drinks, functional foods, and smart drinks. Take a stroll down the herbal drinks aisle, and you might swear you have stumbled upon the secret to eternal life.
Nowadays, there’s an herbal drink for everything. Stress relief, Cancer, diabetes, respiratory health, sleep, weight loss, increased energy, digestion, healthy skin, cold prevention, improved memory, healthier joints and healthy pregnancy.
Ugandans are increasingly seeking alternative ways to improve their health and fitness to avoid expensive doctor’s visits. But not all of these products live up to the advertising claims that they can help people lose weight, combat disease, and improve their cognitive abilities.
Meanwhile, in recent years, there has been a trend in food advertising. Misleading ads for weight loss products target consumers desperate for results. But let’s face it, if a product promises weight loss without effort and sacrifice, it is bogus.
That does not stop some marketers from trying to make a quick buck at consumers’ expense. What is more, they often use the reputation of respected media outlets as cover.
“It has to be true,” consumers conclude. “The ad ran on my favourite channel” – or on the radio, in a national newspaper, or on a trusted website.
A closer look into this growing drink illustrates some of the most important issues currently facing the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS). When a manufacturer walks into UNBS to get certification for an “herbal drink” and claims that the drink cures hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and other ailments, they are advised to ascertain these claims with the National Drug Authority.
Why? Because treatments like chemotherapy for cancer and insulin to manage diabetes have undergone extensive research, trials, and approvals on humans before they are approved by drug authorities across the world.
Bear in mind that regulations do not exist to impede innovation but rather to protect the health and safety of consumers as well as ensure fair competition in the market.
Without this evidence, manufacturers opt to be certified as non-carbonated soft drinks. The challenge then comes when these products are being advertised as certified by UNBS to cure ailments.
It simply isn’t good enough to google information about a product and then slap the nutritional/health benefits found all over labels, webpages, and across your marketing channels.
Care needs to be taken to ensure that the nutrition information for your product is accurate in the first place so that you can check if any claims you want to make can be substantiated.
But that is not all! One of the fundamentals of food labelling is that it must not be misleading so, the wording you can use must have the same meaning to the consumer as the claims listed. The same also goes for pictorial or symbolic representations. Medicinal claims that imply the food can prevent, treat or cure a human disease are a no-go area – they are not permitted to be used on food.
Joselyn B. Mwine is the Public Relations Officer at the Uganda National Bureau of Standards