Last year the nutrition twitterati celebrated the death of wellness. It was the year in which the backlash to the ill-evidenced offerings of Deliciously Ella and her ilk were roundly (if sometimes, unkindly) admonished. Those that peddled diets based on hearsay, ancient mystical practices, or even the theories of discredited charlatans posing as physicians; found themselves the subject of newspaper scrutiny, and even BBC Panorama documentaries.
Celebration, however, may have been a little premature. Where self-styled wellness gurus tread (making money from their insistence that they are not making money from ‘big food’ or ‘big pharma’ who pay off all of those pesky qualified nutritionists); branded products follow, also keen to make money from the trend. Dear-oh-dear, where will the nutrionistas go next now we are seeing wellness ingrained in ‘big food’ too?!
The difference, though, is that whilst Hemsley & Hemsley can flog glossy hardbacks on the basis of such vaguaries as “my grandmother ate it, so it must be good”, there is a degree more rigour required if you want to market actual products you put into your body to the public. Thank goodness. Or, more specifically, thank the EU. When advertising the health benefit of a food product, manufacturers may only make claims that are EU registered, meaning that they are backed by decent evidence (one study saying mice who ate coconut oil got glossier fur probably isn’t going to cut it). These must also be specific about which nutrients are in the product that confer the benefit, and the product must also have a defined amount to make the claim.
So you can’t just say “this steak sandwich makes you clever”, you have to say “this sandwich contains iron from beef steak and spinach which is shown to contribute to normal cognitive function” – but only if it has a decent amount of steak and spinach as outlined by the regulation. No measly thin scraps of steak in my sandwich! Sound complicated? It really isn’t too bad to get your head around – you can even search the list of approved claims online, and the ASA has some pretty clear guidance on their website, meaning even the smallest of businesses can get it right if they’re concerned with doing right by their customers (and the law).
Someone should tell Bfree Foods – the latest free from company to flirt with the ‘lifestyle’ free from consumer. After a lot of deliberation I have come to the conclusion that I don’t have a problem with people eating ‘my’ gluten free products when they don’t really need to. After all, it makes the market bigger and improves choice and availability. I do, however, have a problem with someone sitting in Gluten Free Manufacturer HQ thinking “how can we confuse the public into believing our bread has magical powers to make more dough” (ahem).
That seems exactly what Bfree are trying to do with the opening of their gimmicky ‘sandwich spa‘ in London – pairing lunch options with beauty treatments and giving them names like the “anti-ageing wrap” and “brain boosting sandwich”. Now I love a massage as much as the next person, but to claim my butty is going to turn the clocks back on my eye bags is a bit rich. It prompted a little tongue-in-cheek fun with one of their products I had in the cupboard (I really do look that awful in the morning):
On enquiry, it seems that they have worked with a ‘food scientist’ (that’s a new job title on me – personally I prefer my dietary advice with a side of RNutr or RD) to select sandwich fillings with certain ‘lifestyle’ benefits. Ah, so it’s *not* Bfree products that are being touted here it’s the sandwich fillings, not the whole product? If that’s the case, it doesn’t bear much scrutiny. Even *if* there might be specific authorised claims for those ingredients, they certainly haven’t stated them in the promotional materials all over social media, nor linked them to the specific ingredients rather than the Bfree products. They’ve left us with a lot of gaps to fill in here – and the overriding impression is:
'a gluten free manufacturer are opening a spa which means they must have something to do with looking and feeling good'
And if you are lucky enough to get to go to this pop-up:
'this gluten free wrap will help to make me look younger'
which I am sure is no accident.
Why do I care so much if people want to believe bread will make them beautiful? Well I find it disappointing from a brand with products I actually really like – I feel let down. Bfree are a much-relied on product in the free from community – one of the very few to produce breads suitable for multiple allergies; and to be both suitable for coeliacs and vegans. Their wraps are particularly good. Flirting with nutri-nonsense and the wellness trend puts their brand at risk. It also tars all free from consumers with a trivial brush – the next time I order the gluten free option at a restaurant I might be taken less seriously by the waiter who thinks to themself ‘oh, she must just be worried about looking younger’.
I feel doubly disappointed that they are going down this route when there are multiple nutritional benefits of their products that they could have touted without spinning this weird yarn about facials and massages and lifestyle. Bfree’s less-than-gracious treatment of enquiries from serious nutrition and free from industry folk on Twitter over this campaign has also done nothing to endear them to their core market.
Sadly BFree aren’t the first, they won’t be the last. Wellness isn’t dead, and the world is less well because of it.
You might also like: Stuff Nutritionistas Say, or how about: Gluten Free Manufacturers Shouldn’t make Unauthorised Health Claims? Yup, we’ve been here before. Same nonsense, different bread.