The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the posts on the coffee chain’s website and Facebook page stating its sandwiches were made without “obscure chemicals” using “natural ingredients” were misleading.
Pret confirmed its sandwich bread contains E472e, which is used to strengthen the dough, E471 to soften the crumb, and E300 which is vitamin C. It said all three are commonly used in household brands.
The chain argued its use of the word “natural” was in the context of its wider “mission statement” and did not claim its food was additive or preservative free.
But the ASA ruled that consumers were likely to interpret the term as implying that the product was made with ingredients found only in nature, and therefore breached its code.
It follows a complaint brought by Sustain’s Real Bread Campaign, which is calling on the government to introduce an "Honest Crust Act" to force retailers to list all ingredients and additives on loaves.
“We welcome this ban, which sets a precedent that sends a clear message to food companies that unless they walk the natural food walk, it’s misleading to talk the natural food talk,” said Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young, who submitted the complaint in December 2016.
Pret said in a statement that it had “taken on board” the views of the ASA and changed its adverts, though the company’s logo still features the phrase “natural food”.
“We cherish the relationship we have with our customers…we believe we represent Pret’s food honestly and we always welcome feedback,” said Clare Clough, food and coffee director at Pret A Manger.
The ruling could act as a warning to the recent glut of vegan, health-conscious restaurant openings to ensure their marketing claims are backed up.
In 2016 Leon was ordered to change the name of its "Superfood Salad" after the ASA ruled the term "superfood" was not backed up by authorised evidence.
The product, made with broccoli, peas, cucumber, avocado and quinoa, is still on the menu as the "Original Super Salad".