The maker of a no-calorie sweetener which claims it boosts the immune system and is 10 times more effective than a cup of yogurt, has been told by the National Advertising Division that its marketing is misleading and to please stop making such claims.

Nevella with Probiotics, a novel product launched last year by Heartland Sweeteners, makes numerous claims in print advertising, direct marketing and product packaging that the agency says are not backed by testing and solid science. The NAD, an arm of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, is the advertising industry's self-regulatory body.



In one of its more grandiose statements, Heartland says that Nevella with Probiotics makes it "Easy to get the benefits of probiotics in your morning coffee or sprinkled on fruit or cereal." In another, it claims the sweetener provides "health benefits in every packet."

According to the NAD, the company has not conducted any product testing to substantiate those claims. Rather, it is basing them solely on evidence pointing to the efficacy of Nevella's probiotic component, not of the final product itself.

"The omission is especially problematic given the product's intended use, namely as a sweetener for coffee and tea and in baking, where heat might be expected to affect performance," the NAD said in a statement.

Probiotics are necessary to keep the correct balance between "good" and pathogenic bacteria in the body, but it was only recently that the concept was embraced by Americans (by contrast, Europeans and Australians have held a booming market there since the 1990s). As a result, the number of probiotic supplements in the country has grown exponentially in the past decade. In 2008, according to Datamonitor, the U.S. market was valued at $1.5 billion, a 160% jump since 2003.

Heartland prompted the inquiry after one of its competitors, McNeil Nutritionals, the manufacturer of Splenda No-Calorie Sweetener, challenged Nevella's express and implied health and performance claims. Splenda and Nevella both use the sweetener sucralose.

"When it comes to our attention that an advertising claim may be untruthful or inaccurate, we open a case and request substantiation from the manufacturer. In this instance, we're asking for information [Heartland] should already have," Linda Bean, a spokeswoman for the National Advertising Review Council, told Consumer Ally.

Heartland did not return a call seeking comment, but said in its advertiser's statement that although it disagreed with NAD's finding, it has taken steps to revise its packaging.

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