Walkers’ crisps promotion featuring Gary Lineker not “socially responsible” or “truthful” rules Advertising Standards Authority

16th August

The Advertising Standards Authority has today (16th August) upheld two complaints from Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) about Walkers’ promotion of its crisps in a door-drop leaflet featuring Gary Lineker.  The Authority found that the leaflet breached CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Social responsibility) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

The complaints, submitted in April 2006, were as follows:

1. The promotional leaflet implied that all Walkers crisps, except for Salt and Vinegar and Pickled Onion flavours, contain 8% or less of the 6g Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) of salt per 34.5g pack.  In fact, this claim is true for only 21 out of 33 Walkers’ brand crisps, but the leaflet did not specify which products it was referring to [1].  

2. The leaflet gave no specific information on the lower GDAs of salt for children under 11 [2], thus implying that the product provides 8% or less of the maximum GDA for both children and adults.  In fact, a standard 34.5g bag of Walkers crisps contains 25% of the maximum daily recommendation of salt for a three year old.  CASH felt that to omit to mention anything about the GDA for children under the age of 11 in a leaflet promoting a product often consumed by children was irresponsible and misleading.  

“We are delighted that the ASA has upheld both these complaints,” said Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at St George’s University of London.  “Walkers has made some small reductions in the amount of salt in a few of its Walkers brand crisps, but it was implying in this door-drop leaflet that ‘every crisp’ is ‘better for you’. To imply that a Walkers Sensations Walkers Oven Roasted Chicken with Lemon & Thyme Flavour crisp is ‘better for you’ when it contains approximately one and a half times the salt level of seawater is in my view socially irresponsible.  Pepsico International, Walkers’ parent company, is one of the biggest drink and snack companies in the world, and in my opinion they should behave more ethically.”  

“We were also very concerned that Walkers had only referred to the Guideline Daily Amount of salt for adults and children over the age of 11 in this piece of promotion, and are very glad that the ASA agreed that this was not truthful or socially responsible,” said Jo Butten, Nutritionist for CASH.  “A multipack bag of Walkers Ready Salted Crisps contains 20% of the daily maximum limit of salt for a three year old – almost three times the 7% figure highlighted by the leaflet.  And because the leaflet implies that it refers to ‘every crisp’ that Walkers makes, parents could easily be led to believe that a pack of Walkers Lites Salt & Vinegar Flavour crisps are a good choice for their child, when in fact they contain 0.8g of salt – 40 percent of the maximum daily amount for a 1-3 year old and over a quarter of the maximum daily amount for a 4-6 year old.”

CASH also complained about Walkers’ comparison of the salt content of a bag of their crisps with a slice of bread, providing evidence that a slice of many standard own-label medium sliced white bread bought in any UK supermarket in March 2006 contained 0.4g of salt or less per slice [3].  Thus, CASH stated, it was incorrect to say that the salt content of a bag of crisps containing 0.5g of salt per pack was ‘the same as a slice of bread’.  

Despite acknowledging that Walkers had referred to data on the salt content of bread that dated from 2002, and only three samples of branded white bread, and had compared it with their own product’s salt content, which had just been reduced, the ASA did not uphold this complaint.  They considered that Walkers had used “acceptable methods to develop the basis of comparison” between bread and their crisps.

“We were very disappointed that the ASA did not agree with our evidence that a slice of many own-label bread contains less salt than a bag of Walkers crisps,” said Professor MacGregor.  “We find it bizarre that a company can be allowed to reduce salt levels in their products in 2006 and then advertise a comparison with another food product based on out of date figures and a sample of only three products. Surely it would be better to go to a supermarket and look at the current levels of salt in a range of breads at the time of the promotion, including supermarket own-label.

”But overall we are pleased that Walkers has been pulled up by the ASA for being ‘misleading’ and for breaching the CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Social responsibility) and 7.1 (Truthfulness). We hope that in the future Walkers will behave in a more socially responsible manner.”    

Notes to Editors and References
[1] Below is a list of Walkers brand crisps that exceed 8% of an adults GDA for salt per pack/suggested serving, together with their salt contents. We have calculated the salt content from the sodium content per pack/suggested serving provided on the Walkers website in April 2006. At this time only sodium information was available. Please note that salt information has been added to the Walkers website for some products since this campaign has taken place so that the amount of salt per pack/suggested serving size may differ from our calculations.

productportion weightsalt per portion% of adult GDA
Pickled Onion Flavour Crisps*   34.5g0.6g10%
Salt and Vinegar Flavour Crisps*  34.5g0.8g13%
Max Chargrilled Steak    50g0.75g12%
Max Cheese and Onion50g1g17%
Max Paprika   50g0.75g12%
Walkers Lites Salt and Vinegar28g0.75g12%
Sensations Chargrilled Steak & Peppercorn Sauce  35g1g17%
Sensations Four Cheese & Red Onion35g1g17%
Sensations Oven Roasted Chicken & Thyme  35g1.25g21%
Sensations Sea Salt & Cracked Black Pepper    35g1.25g21%
Sensations Slow Roasted Lamb & Mint    35g1g17%
Sensations Thai Sweet Chilli35g1g17%

Information on the salt content of all Walkers crisps products can be found at: http://walkers.corpex.com/cr15p5/productshome.asp  By clicking on each brand, nutritional information can be found.  Where the sodium content is listed – this must be multiplied by 2.5 to reach the salt content.

*For Pickled Onion Flavoured Crisps and Salt and Vinegar Flavoured Crisps the salt information per pack was taken from the leaflet for which the complaint was upheld.

[2] Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommended salt intakes for children and adults

AgeTarget Average salt intake (g/day)
0-6 months<1g
7-12 months 1 g
1-3 years2g
4-6 years3g
7-10 years5g
11-14 years6g