Kraft Foods Plans Shift in Marketing to Children
Public advocacy groups have long been calling for food companies to reign in their advertising efforts to small children. Kraft is making changes, but are they enough?
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By Michael Long
January 20, 2005
In Food Fight , Yale professors Kelly Brownell, Ph.D., and Katherine Horgen’s, Ph.D. insightful examination of America’s food industry and the growing obesity epidemic, America’s Everychild cries out desperately, “Why do you let this happen to me?” This exhortation drives Brownell and Horgen to the excellently researched and argued conclusion that the way we relate to food in this country requires drastic changes.
Noting that $10 billion per year is spent on advertising food to children, Brownell and Horgen write, “The vignette of a child wanting soda, chips and ice cream has a cute side, but cute fades quickly when we consider that the diseases children face later in life, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, could be developing right here, right now.”
With this threat in mind, against the background of potential liability lawsuits and on the same day that a large shift in the federal government’s dietary recommendations were released, Kraft Foods, Inc., the nation’s largest food company, announced that it will be changing how it advertises their food products to children under twelve.
Over the course of 2005, Kraft will be phasing out television, print and radio advertising for its least nutritious foods targeted at children ages 6-11. They will continue to advertise to children in this age group with cartoons on their product packaging, contests and online campaigns.
Although they will not cease advertising to this age group entirely (as many children’s advocates have requested), they will be replacing their traditional product mix with “better-for-you” products carrying the company’s new Sensible Solutions flag. This label will begin appearing on some of Kraft’s products in April 2005.
Some of the products that will carry this label include Shredded Wheat cereal, Minute Rice instant whole grain brown rice, whole wheat Triscuits and Crystal Light beverages.
Based on consultation with both internal and external nutrition experts, the Sensible Solutions products fulfill one of the two following requirements:
1. By providing beneficial nutrients such as protein, calcium or fiber/whole grain at nutritionally meaningful levels, or delivering a functional benefit, such as heart health or hydration, while staying within specific limits on calories, fat (including saturated and trans fat), sodium and sugar;
2. By meeting specifications for “reduced,” “low” or “free” in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar or sodium.
A long-time critic of fast food and packaged food companies, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) applauded Kraft’s marketing shift and encouraged the company to extend its efforts to its other forms of marketing and to children older than twelve.
However, the CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo Wootan commented on the need for greater support from the government to promote healthy food, “Unfortunately, modest corporate restraints on the advertising of processed foods will not increase the marketing of truly healthful foods—like fruits, vegetables, and fat-free dairy products—that should form the bulk of children’s diets.”
Coinciding with the release of the USDA’s new nutrition guidelines, the Center released their own “Guidelines for Responsible Food Marketing to Children,” which calls for numerous reforms in the way that food is marketed to children under eighteen. This document deserves serious consideration by all food marketers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of overweight children has doubled in the last twenty years, to 16 percent of children 6-19 years of age. Whether one values the free speech rights of marketers over the paternal rights of the government to regulate speech that may cause harm, it is clear that something must be done.
In a press conference announcing changes to the US Dietary Guidelines, Health and Humans Services Secretary Tommy Thompson commented on the American focus on free speech over paternalistic prevention of harm, "In regards to advertising, we have a Constitution that prohibits the limit of speech, and we in this Administration believe very strongly that people should have the opportunity to advertise. And we're not going to in any way curtail the right to express people's opinions. But we think we have to do a better job, more aggressively, you know, to tell the other side."
Is the US government going to start spending $10 Billion a year advertising healthy dietary practices to children?
Who is responsible for change?
In a case decided last year, the courts in New York failed to find McDonald’s liable for the impact that its food products had on the health of children in Brooklyn. For now, the legal establishment has refused to assign the same level of liability to food manufacturers that is has ascribed to cigarette manufacturers in recent years.
Similarly, legislatures at the national level have not proposed laws that would significantly limiting commercial speech to children. Local solutions cannot compete with the national and global reach of large food companies.
Making headlines around the globe, the European Union’s Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou announced at conference in Brussels today that the EU would impose restrictions on food company marketing aimed at children by 2006 unless the industry adopted a voluntary code by the end of this year.
Back in the U.S., is Kraft, the largest packaged food target for liability lawsuits, making a preemptive strike that will forstall government action? Are they taking an ethical stand, hoping to save the lives of so many at-risk children?
Or, most exciting, is the country moving slowly but surely towards a healthier diet, making Kraft’s changes a shrewd marketing decision? With new government recommendations calling for the consumption of nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day as well as a significant focus on whole grains and low-fat dairy, this may be the time to make large-scale changes in the way that Americans are eating.
I hope so.
“Kraft Foods Announces Marketing Changes To Emphasize More Nutritious Products,” Kraft Foods. January 12, 2005
The Sensible Solution Program. Kraft Foods Inc.
Kraft Advertising-to-Kids Policy Applauded: Statement of CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan. Center for Science in the Public Interest. January 12, 2005.
Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2005. Health and Human Services
Guidelines for Responsible Food Marketing to Children. Center for Science in the Public Interest. January 2005.
Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 1999-2002