You can’t put lipstick on a pig — or false claims on your product.

October 16, 2013By Behind the Shelf Blog, Brand Marketing

by Dave Wendland

A phrase common in the car sales industry used to describe taking a hunk of junk, brushing on a fresh coat of paint, and selling it for full price may also apply to the consumer healthcare market. Although consumers are savvy shoppers, they may be fooled into believing that the claims on certain non-FDA regulated products are indeed true.

Claims that can be used on food and dietary supplement labels fall into three categories: health claims, nutrient content claims, and structure/function claims. And there are compliance guidelines to be followed by manufacturers promoting such a product.dietary supplement labels

Various organizations representing dietary supplements such as Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994) and certain regulatory bodies do an admirable job establishing manufacturer standards, although there is not a guarantee that misleading claims are not asserting themselves on product packaging aimed at capturing the imagination and desire of consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) monitors advertising activities related to dietary supplements, but verifying claims made on packages is the responsibility of the manufacturer. That’s why the law (DSHEA) requires that supplements have wording (a disclaimer) that says: "This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."

This "disclaimer" is required when a manufacturer makes a structure/function claim on a dietary supplement label. In general, these claims describe the role of a nutrient or dietary ingredient intended to affect the structure or function of the body. The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the accuracy and truthfulness of these claims; they are not approved by FDA.

Please don’t think that I’m bashing the dietary supplement industry. Far be it from the truth. I not only personally use a number of dietary supplements, but I strongly believe they belong among the mix on well-stocked shelves. The challenge for me rests in the number of blatantly false product claims inviting unknowing consumers to purchase them. Over the last decade, the FTC has filed one hundred and twenty cases challenging health claims made for supplements (Source:

Manufacturers who attempt appealing to the shopper’s moment of weakness and promoting unsubstantiated claims will not win friends and influence loyal users. Simply put, if the product in the box does not meet the customer’s goals nor performs as advertised, the reality will soon surface and this “pig with lipstick” will be sent back to the pigsty and be removed from the shelves.

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