The misleading characteristic of palm free claims

Research shows that most consumers associate the term ‘palm oil free’ on a product with a conscious choice regarding environmental issues, ethical concerns and health. They see ‘free from’ claims in general as a positive notion. EPOA is of the opinion that a product packaging should describe the content of the product and considers ‘palm oil free’ claims to be misleading. Time to take action.

For some companies the positive attitude of consumers towards free from claims, makes it very attractive to use such a claim from a marketing perspective. They use explicit claims like ‘palm oil free’ on the label, even when this information can be deduced from the list of ingredien​​​​​​​ts. Legally it is regulated that if an ingredient is not in the product it will not be mentioned in the list of ingredients. So attracting extra attention to the absence of an ingredient will merely be done with a marketing angle and will not help to sell a more healthy or sustainable product.

EPOA believes that sustainable palm oil has a place in a balanced diet, which should be reflected in product communication to the consumer. A ‘No palm oil’ label is confusing for consumers, because it creates conflicting messages around sustainable palm oil for all stakeholders in the palm oil supply chain, including consumers who would like to make a responsible decision and protect rainforests. 

From a sustainability perspective, ‘No palm oil’ claims do not contribute to creating positive change on the ground. In fact, they are likely to create adverse effects on the environment as palm oil free products will entail replacing palm oil by alternative ingredients. As different studies by NGOs and universities show, palm oil is the most efficient source of vegetable oil. Alternatives for palm oil require more land to produce oil. Replacing a high yielding crop with low yielding crops will therefore put more pressure on forests and biodiversity. As such, palm oil free products are not necessarily a synonym to being environment friendly. And yet, it is exactly the sustainability-conscious consumers that palm oil free marketing aims to reach.

Together with the National Initiatives, EPOA engages with all companies that we know of that are using negative claims for palm oil. We explain why using these claims is not helping the sustainability case for the whole food chain. We also actively invite them to cooperate and to join us in the efforts to achieving that goal. The only alternative to palm oil is sustainable palm oil!

EPOA believes that the more positive and honest information there is about sustainable palm oil, the less reason there is for ‘advertising’ palm oil free. That is why EPOA generates and supports positive messages about sustainable palm oil, especially on social media.