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Top baby food brands are taking Indians for a ride with their obnoxious “healthier kid” claims

Raising a baby is a herculean task. And in today’s competitive world, underachiever parents burden kids with overachieving goals. Excellence in all aspects is mandatory. Therein comes the big rescuer: health foods that can make any child a mini Einstein or a miniscule Sachin Tendulkar! Also, food brands aim lazy parents, who can’t even smash a carrot for their baby, by promising the “overall nutrition” packet.

But are we really energising our kids by filling their cups and bowls with tailored-packaged foods? May be in our rush to make them smarter, we are missing on the bigger picture: health. A look at the most popular health foods for growing children will make it clearer.


Complan, a product of the Mexico-based brand Heinz claims to be “The complete planned food”; Bournvita prepares your child for success (Tayyari Jeet Ki..), while Boost is the “Secret of (every successful Indian cricketer’s) energy”.

Horlicks and Boost are marketed by the pharma giant GSK (Glaxo Smith Kline), and Bournvita is owned by the towering chocolate brand, Cadbury. Boost claims it “helps build stamina in just 120 days!” Horlicks claims to do 5 things at a time: strengthen bones, make muscles stronger, help retaining memories, generate healthier blood, and push healthy weight gain too! Same claims are made when it comes to kids toys which we generally don’t take seriously, but its indeed a very serious issue as it is concerned with the life of our kids. Before buying any toy for your kids, just make sure you do a thorough research on the products or toys regarding the quality and safety standards it employs. Reading review sites for such products is always recommended.


Interestingly, all the claims are substantiated by clinical tests, a tactic owned by almost all brands, fearing admonishment from health advisory bodies. But contrary to their tall claims, the promises are hardly based on any reliable scientific data.

In 2012, almost all these food products come under the scanner of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for making false health claims. The food regulator issued show cause notices to 19 brands for making false claims regarding the nutritional value of the product in ads and on their label. Complan, Complan Memory, Boost, Horlicks (our most trusted health food!), Bournvita Little Champs, and Pediasure were blacklisted by the food watchdog.


All these products violated Section 24 of the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), which states that nobody can make false claims in oral, writing or even by visual representations about the nutritional value or the efficiency of the product without scientific proofs.

The interesting thing is, Complan and Horlicks, which claim to make children taller in India, refrain from such tactics in the UK. While the Indian advertisement use kids to reiterate their claim, in the UK, no kids are used in the labels. The food safety body also booked Complan Memory for depicting children with books on its label that misled people about kids topping exams after downing mugs of the drink.


Last year, around the time our favourite Maggi noodles were banned, a popular baby food by the parent brand Nestle courted trouble. A sample of pricey milk powder NAN PRO3 tested positive for food contamination. When a man reported that a packet of NAN had live worms in it, the food lab conducted independent tests and confirmed that the sample contained 28 live larvae, and 22 rice weevils! Eww… and we thought babies were thriving on canned milk!


Two weeks after the NAN PRO3 incident, another man reported to the food safety watchdog in Coimbatore that a packet of well-known baby food Cerelac (by Nestle) was infested with wriggly worms! During the same time, Pediasure, a nutritional drink for kids got a rap from food safety officials.

The probe guys ordered recall of a batch of the baby food on a complaint of “foul smell” filed by a customer. A product of pharma brand Abbot, Pediasure claims on its website that it’s a “nutritious supplement for kids falling behind on growth”.


Even after all the blacklisting, the brands continue to make nauseating tall claims. They do mention about some dubious “clinical certification”. The fine for flouting the norms is so minimal (Rs 10 lakh maximum) that global companies are hardly affected.  This is a negligible amount to pay, because the MNCs make crores anyways.

We believe a steeper fine and long-imprisonment laws in India will deter such brands from flooding our markets with misleading or contaminated food. We can’t let our kids suffer due to the lack of lax regulations.

About the author


Whether it’s women issues, politics or the paranormal, Rubi has an opinion on everything. Art and entertainment interest her, too. Hindu College alumni, she has written for The Hindustan Times and The Financial Express. Every now and then, she loves picking up her camera to capture life and its various shades.

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