"Having the right health claim can be a powerful message," said Lawrence Mallinson, managing director of James White Drinks. "But awareness of health messages is relatively short-lived. You get a big splash of interest after a piece of research has been publicised but you then have to keep pumping the message out. Although sales inevitably fall back, they should still end up higher than before."
He told the conference that sales of his Beet It organic beetroot juice had followed just that pattern following independent research showing how the nitrate in beetroot juice could reduce blood pressure.
He said: "In general there is a lot of conflicting evidence surrounding health claims and my advice is to steer clear. We could probably get a claim for Beet It accepted but I'm not sure I'd want to. It could end up turning the product into another commodity and it is difficult to see how we would benefit. In effect, the rules could crush some of the potential to develop products in this area."
Conference organiser and consultant Hazel MacTavish-West said grower groups had become wary of placing too much emphasis on marketing specific health claims because the result tended to be a swapping of market share between crops rather than increasing overall fresh produce sales.