Keep it real: Advise experts as the beverage industry faces scrutiny for false claims

The FSSAI and Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry have directed e-commerce platforms not to list products like Dairy-Based Beverage Mix, Cereal-Based Beverage Mix or Malt-Based Beverage under the 'healthy drinks' category. Branding experts share how it is going to affect beverage brands and how they can rebrand their marketing efforts to gain consumer trust.

Shamita Islur
New Update
beverage industry FSSAI scrutiny

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recently asked all e-commerce Food Business Operators (FBOs) to ensure appropriate categorisation of food products being sold on their websites. FSSAI has noted instances of food products licensed under 'Proprietary food' - dairy-based beverage mix, cereal-based beverage mix or malt-based beverage, being sold on e-commerce websites under the category ‘health drink’, ‘energy drink’, etc.

In a press release, FSSAI clarified that the term ‘Health Drink’ is not defined or standardised anywhere under the FSS Act 2006 or rules/regulations made thereunder. Therefore, it advised all e-commerce FBOs to rectify this misclassification by removing or de-linking such drinks or beverages from the category on their websites and placing such products in the appropriate category.

Health food drinks in India are largely malt-based milk drinks that enhance taste while offering nutrients. These beverage brands first came under the scanner in 2023 when Bournvita and content creator Revant Himatsingka, aka Foodpharmer, went head-to-head. In a video, Himatsingka spoke about the sugar content in Bournvita and the caramel colour, which is carcinogenic in nature. He also commented on the claims like “Active Brain, Strong Muscles, Strong Bones and Immune System” made by the brand on its packaging. The video gathered 12 million views and triggered conversations.

Bournvita had issued a statement, saying that the product is “a scientifically designed formula made with ingredients that are approved for use, and all our ingredients are declared on the pack" and “contains nutrients namely Vitamin A, C, D, Iron, Zinc, Copper and Selenium which help build immunity.”

This isn’t the first time tall claims have been made through advertisements and product packaging. Advertisements made by “healthy” beverage and malt-based brands claim that their products provide nutrition to children. For example, sweet malted milk hot drink powder Horlicks claims that school children who consume the beverage showed “increased bone area (Taller), muscle mass (Stronger) and attention and cone=centration scores (Sharper).”

Similarly, Complan claims that the nutritional drink has “63% more protein and is clinically proven to provide 2X faster growth and support memory and concentration” through its branding, including advertisements, packaging, and website. 

A tiny disclaimer, however, highlights on its website that “growth and cognitive development are influenced by genetic, nutrition and environmental factors.” Such claims were brought under the scanner in 2007 as the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) sent a notice to the brand to either change or remove an advertisement saying it would increase a child’s height by two times. However, there was no change.

As per reports, India is considered to be the largest market for malt-based health drinks globally and constitutes about 22% of world retail volume sales with a market size of about INR 11,000 crore in India. This market is forecasted to grow with a CAGR of more than 10% from 2022-23 to 2027-28, as per a study by Research and Markets. 

Despite previous attempts at bringing change in this industry, the branding and marketing is yet to change. Now that the FSSAI and Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry have directed e-commerce platforms not to list these products under the 'healthy drinks' category, how is it going to affect the brands listed under the category? 

Ashwini Deshpande, Co-Founder and Director of Elephant Design, sees this directive as a positive step towards increased transparency. 

“We have been working on food packaging for over three decades and have witnessed all the pro-consumer regulations coming to life. I never see such directives as a barrier. Brands with good intentions and pro-people purposes should be able to benefit from this mandate. I would not worry about the brands that want to mislead or misinform the consumer.”


Ashwini Deshpande

A study compared food ads aimed at adults and children on mainstream channels in India. It found that chocolate and sweet ads were the most common advertisements, followed by health drinks and fruit products. Ads often claimed benefits like calcium, protein, low calories, and improved height or sharpness.

A study by Research Gate suggests that when consumers become aware of misleading advertising, they become more sensitive to any form of advertising, depending on their level of emotion. Misleading advertising has an impact on how they observe the product and the immediate environment in which the claims are presented.

Reassess marketing 

Shashwat Das, Founder Director, Almond Branding says that the mandate could potentially impact consumer perception of these beverages and consumers who may have associated them with health or energy benefits, may need to reassess their understanding of these products.

Shashwat Das

“Brands will need to revise their marketing strategies to comply with the directive. They may need to invest in educational campaigns to inform consumers about the nutritional content and benefits of their products outside of the 'health' or 'energy' drink categories. This could involve highlighting ingredients, nutritional value, and usage occasions.”

While Bournvita came under the scanner last year for its sugar content, it has since had to reduce its sugar quantity by 15%. The claims made by such brands are unclear; however, the onus should also fall on the advertising of such products where tall claims are made. 

Rutu Mody-Kamdar, Founder of Jigsaw Brand Consultants points out that such brands often associate themselves with concepts like "health" and "energy," aiming to evoke feelings of "love" and "care" akin to those provided by a mother to her child. This directive will now have a huge impact on the positioning of these brands, according to her. 

Rutu Mody-Kamdar

“Brands will need to carefully navigate this by pivoting their messaging to focus on the intrinsic benefits of their products without leaning on these now-restricted descriptors. It will take a substantial amount of marketing to help consumers relearn the semiotic codes around health, energy and love which have been traditionally ingrained by these brands.”

Following the directive, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) brands like Horlicks and Boost have renamed their 'health food drinks' category to 'functional nutritional drinks' (FND). Experts suggest that renaming the drinks to ‘functional nutritional drinks’ is a safe way for the brand to align with the regulatory requirements while also emphasizing the health-oriented aspects of beverages.

Now that “healthy” drinks have taken the steps to follow guidelines, is it time for all beverage brands to rebrand themselves?

Rebranding for transparency 

Ronita Mukerjee, Executive Director, Client Services, Landor comments that this is a good opportunity to go back to core principles of brand building. 

“Successful brands are the ones who make a promise and then deliver on it. As a brand, if you want to play in the health space; ask yourself what your unique proposition is that you can credibly own and deliver.”

Ronita Mukerjee

Mukerjee mentions that the FSSAI mandate is a positive step to empower customers as they make choices for themselves and their families. 

“We have often said that information on Back of Pack (BOP) will start to appear on Front of Pack (FOP) given the change in consumer needs and their expectations around access to information. This also means that brands will need to play a more authentic and meaningful role in the consumer’s life.”

Gautam Patil, Co-Founder and Head of Design at Plus One states that the rebranding should not just focus on changing the category descriptor. He mentions that renaming the category descriptor from 'health food drinks' to  'functional nutritional drinks' under the pretext of rebranding is not the right solution.

Gautam Patil


“There are brands that are still looking for loopholes and not real design-thinking solutions. I think rebranding with getting more clarity and transparency of the products to help consumers to make well-informed choices is more important as consumers are only getting more informed and smarter by the day.”

Ashwini Deshpande of Elephant Design believes that the term "healthy" can be misleading because what's good for one person might not be suitable for someone else with a different health condition.

“It is best if brands describe "what the product does" in an informative manner instead of adding unsupported jargon and claims that cannot be proved scientifically,” Deshpande continues.

Jigsaw Brand Consultants’ Rutu Mody-Kamdar suggests that rebranding might be necessary for many brands to retain customer trust and interest. She also mentions that brands should consider a more holistic approach in their marketing, emphasizing overall wellness and lifestyle alignment rather than just health or energy claims. 

“Messaging could focus more on the authenticity of ingredients, the process of making the beverages, or how the products fit into a balanced lifestyle.”

Shashwat Das of Almond Branding adds the primary focus should be on clarity and that brands should move away from vague descriptors like 'healthy' unless they can be substantiated. 

“Consider using more specific terms that describe the actual benefits of their products, such as "high in fiber" or "no added sugars." This approach aligns with regulatory demands and helps build trust with consumers.”

Gaining consumer trust through marketing

A 2022 Accenture Survey finds that 80% of consumers intend to maintain or increase their spends on areas related to health and fitness. The survey found that even in the face of widespread uncertainty and personal financial strains, consumers are considering health and fitness to be essential.

This behaviour has affected shopping habits as health and wellness trends have become a factor in brand selection, with consumers seeking products and services that align with their values.

As consumers and deinfluencers are asking for more transparency and pushing companies to let go of unhealthy practices. How should the industry change, especially on the marketing and brand side? 

Landor’s Ronita Mukerjee states that consumers no longer think of health as an end destination, but it’s a journey that consists of gaining knowledge, mindful actions, and thoughtful experiences.

“The health conversation is evolving. Consumers expect brands to play an active role in this pursuit for health and there are so many new and exciting ways to engage with them."

Elephant Design’s Ashwini Deshpande emphasises the importance of honesty and authenticity in branding. She comments that it all starts with making a product that is good for the audience. Therefore, brands can just tell the truth and build themselves into an authentic, honest personality.

Shashwat Das of Almond Branding highlights, “Leveraging technology to provide detailed product histories and ensuring the provenance of ingredients can satisfy the consumer's need for trustworthiness and authenticity.” 

Brands should consider using digital tools to enhance transparency and build a more profound trust relationship with consumers, he continues.

The way forward

Moving forward, it is essential for brands to disclose ingredients, sourcing practices, and the actual health benefits of products without exaggeration. Rutu Mody-Kamdar of Jigsaw Brand Consultants says that being called out for the slightest glitch is a danger that causes irreparable damage to the brand. 

“Engaging with consumers through platforms that allow for direct feedback and incorporating this feedback into product development and marketing can also help brands stay aligned with consumer expectations.”

Plus One’s Gautam Patil emphasizes the need for brands to adapt to the growing health consciousness among consumers.

“Brands need to rethink the portfolio, rework the formulations and launch more healthy products for increasingly health-conscious consumers to have clear information on the pack so they can have different variants with sugar and other required ingredients % mentioned clearly so consumers can make an informed choice as per health or taste preference.”

Patil also mentions that this will require efforts from Brand, Design Partners and Authorities with design playing a big role, to take this to the consumer in the simplest and easiest-to-understand formats.

Shashwat Das points out a few dos and don’ts for brands in the future.


Be Transparent About Ingredients: Clearly disclose all ingredients and their sources.

Showcase the Benefits Clearly: If your product offers specific health benefits, clearly explain these in your advertising without making vague or unverifiable claims. Use scientific data to back up your claims whenever possible.

Respect Consumer Intelligence: Treat consumers as knowledgeable partners in your marketing. Avoid oversimplified messages and respect their ability to research and understand product details.


Steer Clear of Greenwashing: Do not claim your products are 'green' or 'sustainable' without genuine practices to back up these claims. Consumers are becoming adept at identifying greenwashing tactics, and such actions can harm your brand's reputation.

Don't Overcomplicate: Consumers appreciate simplicity and clarity in messaging, which helps them make informed choices without confusion​.

The recent directives from regulatory bodies such as FSSAI highlight the importance of transparency and authenticity in the beverage industry. Brands might have to reassess their marketing strategies and disclosing ingredients, avoid vague or exaggerated claims, and respect consumer intelligence.

Ashwini Deshpande states, “Over-promise or exaggerated, twisted facts are the real enemies if you want to build a long-sustaining brand. Keeping it real is the best practice.” 



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