FD Buyer: Feds Want to Change How You Market

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Aug 18, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Frozen & Dairy Buyer magazine.

Make no mistake about it, the food industry is under attack. And it’s not just food makers that are at risk. Recent efforts to limit food marketing to children would have a far-reaching effect, extending well into grocery store aisles.

The federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Food Marketed to Children recently proposed a set of so-called “voluntary” industry guidelines meant to limit the marketing of food products to children ages 2-17. Based on a strict set of nutrition criteria, the proposed guidelines cover 20 categories of advertising, marketing and promotional activities that limit how food is marketed on television, online, in print and in stores, including point-of- purchase displays, advertising circulars and promotional sweepstakes.

Facing “voluntary” marketing restrictions, food makers will be forced to further reformulate their products at significant cost (if even possible). They’ll no longer be allowed to promote their products in any venue where children or adolescents could be present or watching, like a child accompanying a parent in a grocery store.

For food retailers, the proposal represents a significant stifling of their ability to communicate with shoppers through point-of-sale (POS) material, mailed circulars and in-store signage and audio promotions. Even seemingly innocuous communications with moms and dads about foods that could be eaten by kids will be subject to intense scrutiny.

For food makers and retailers alike, those refusing to abide by these “voluntary” guidelines could can expect to defend themselves against shareholder-sponsored resolutions, consumer advocacy boycotts, civil lawsuits and a constant barrage of public criticism from so-called public health and consumer advocacy groups.

IWG, without substantiation, asserts that advertising is a significant cause of childhood obesity, and that restricting food marketing to children would reduce childhood obesity rates. Never mind that obesity is a complex problem not directly attributable to, or caused by, any one factor.

Also lost on the IWG are efforts by the food industry to self-regulate. The Better Business Bureau’s five-year old Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative today includes 17 of the largest food and beverage makers in the United States. Each has committed that all advertising directed at children under age 12 will promote healthier dietary choices or better-for-you products.

Not only have food makers voluntarily committed to changing how they advertise, they’ve also strengthened the nutritional value of their products, making sweeping cuts to sodium, sugar and fat, while at the same time making greater use of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and all-natural ingredients in prepared foods. Despite these truly voluntary efforts by food makers, our industry’s critics constantly demand more.

At the end of the day — regardless of the lack of causal evidence between food marketing and obesity rates and the industry’s efforts to self-regulate — food producers and retailers have reason to be concerned about and actively contest the government’s efforts to dictate how frozen and refrigerated food makers and retailers communicate with consumers.

Discussion Questions: To what degree does food advertising contribute to eating habits that lead to obesity in children? Have the major food and beverage makers adequately changed how they advertise to children?

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19 Comments on "FD Buyer: Feds Want to Change How You Market"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

“Under attack” — really? McD’s just announced their changes to Happy Meals. What did that take, 30 years? As the largest food supplier in the world, I do think they have the ability to make a difference in the lives of their patrons just by what they offer and promote. One could have said everyone has the right to buy Lawn Darts too.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

While I agree that the food industry has perhaps been unfairly highlighted as an enabler or cause of childhood obesity, the food industry has not been without fault. In most transactions between the consumer and marketer, there is no public policy maker intervention. The public policy makers inject themselves (fairly or unfairly) into the transaction process when they perceive a transactional imbalance.

Therefore, it is incumbent that members of the food channel — manufacturers and retailers — proactively self-regulate in these areas or suffer the consequences imposed by the public policy makers. No one has ever been happy with imposed regulations, but often they are created because industries failed to balance the transactions between themselves and consumers.

Going forward, the learning is to become more proactive versus being recalcitrant and reactive after the fact.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
9 years 8 months ago
While I am not in favor of excessive government regulation, I don’t believe that the food industry has done nearly enough voluntarily to change how they advertise and about what advertising/marketing messages that they are sending to children. The article stresses that the voluntary efforts of food makers have resulted in “sweeping” improvements in the reduction of sodium, fats and sugars. The author seems to ignore the fact that these “voluntary” efforts have taken place following years and years of scientific and nutritionists’ studies pointing out the potential negative affects of packaged foods. Food companies are notorious for years of misleading marketing. (In the 60’s, they touted sugar coated cereals and candy bars as being wholesome and providing “energy” that kids needed.) I don’t believe that food makers and marketers will ever do enough on their own to bring full transparency of their products’ ingredients and potential health issues. On the other hand, Americans crave fast and easy food and snacks, and it is hard to argue that this is exactly what food marketers are… Read more »
Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Advertising works. Otherwise, why would companies use it? Too many Americans are overweight. This makes advertising to children a natural target.

We could debate the pros and cons of such legislation, but there is no denying that the country is getting fatter and this will cost all of us significant sums to deal with the health care problems that result.

Food manufacturers should continue to take calories out of their products while encouraging children to make healthy choices.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
9 years 8 months ago

The food industry didn’t do enough early enough, and several initiatives to self-regulate, such as on-package evaluations of nutrient content, broke down as suppliers did not want to overtly reveal what the foods contain. As a result, despite real efforts, the industry has invited, and now gotten, extremist pressure that is going to severely limit product development, advertising and promotion.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 8 months ago

Food advertising has done its share of damage in obesity matters. And so have the delicious, greasy, calorie-loaded, sugary, fatty and appealing tastes of processed foods that focus on the kids.

Manufacturers know that when you capture children’s taste buds, you capture their minds — usually for life — and that’s the game plan. That’s why nobody opens up broccoli stands for kids. It would seem the parents have to take a greater role in what their children eat if they don’t want them to become obese.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 8 months ago
There’s no question that there is an obesity problem in this country and, saddest of all, it seems to be even more pronounced among our young. Indeed, I read recently that America may be approaching a point where, for the first time in our history, life expectancy may actually go down. Predictably, we now have a federal bureaucracy deciding, without supporting evidence, that the cause is advertising by grocers and the answer is for the bureaucrats to decide what grocers should and should not be allowed to advertise, where certain products should go in the store, and, ultimately, what the grocers should be allowed to sell. Having no causal evidence, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that any of this will make the slightest bit of difference in obesity rates. What is certain is that it will raise operating costs, which will doubtless raise the cost of food. If this group is interested in actually doing something useful, they might take a look at the farm subsidies, which creates artificially low prices for high… Read more »
Tina Lahti
Guest
Tina Lahti
9 years 8 months ago

Big food is the new big tobacco. American consumers have justifiably lost trust in the industry after decades of profit at any price behavior and nutritional spin. We know that we are all paying the price with increased health care costs and a generation of kids that is expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. I think that it’s too late for voluntary guidelines. Regulation is coming and American consumers will support it.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
An added example of over regulation on the part of the Federal Bureaucracy in Washington D.C. This group of bureaucrats are overstepping the intentions delegated to them by Congress. Silly and dangerous excess policies like this kill jobs, misguide other regulators, discourage retailers and manufacturers from focusing on their primary responsibilities, raise prices as the market tries to deal with this type of policy, and further harm the economy. Advertising does contribute to eating habits. So too do parental guidance, school programs and personal responsibility of adults and children. If the Interagency Working Group (IWG) needs to tackle obesity, they should start with a look at their own associates, see how they compare to national standards, and tell them to get the lead out first. The food and beverage makers have done an outstanding job of making adjustments to their advertising. While childhood obesity has risen in the past 20 years, adult obesity has risen at an even faster clip. The bureaucrats are way off track — they should get back inside the Beltway and… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This topic could use “a little more light and a little less heat,” to use that old cliche (and ironic, as well, as this piece appeared in a frozen foods trade journal). Specifically, what is in the proposed guidelines and why would the nonobservant (then) be subjected to pressure from private groups? Wouldn’t they be subjected to those same pressures absent any IWG? Of course, many object to any kind of guidelines — government or NGO, sensible or idiotic — on ideological grounds (I know best how to run MY business), and we will all have to consider that bias when discussing this.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

The more we try to protect our society, the more unhealthy it becomes. We were in better shape, got all the nutrition we needed and didn’t even think about any of it 40 years ago. And back then, it wasn’t like we were all plowing fields for a living. Today’s obesity challenges arise from our lethargic, TV/PC watching lifestyles. There are more healthy food alternatives available today than ever before. The easy targets are the food manufacturers and retails. We need to encourage our kids to turn off the TV, put their mobile phones in their pockets and get outside and play. The greater threat to our health is inactivity, and less the foods we eat. Sure, eating nothing but high-fat, high-carb snacks is not the way to go, however, I believe we are overreacting to an issue that no one is addressing directly.

Bottom line, get off the couch and go for a walk.

Jack Pansegrau
Guest
Jack Pansegrau
9 years 8 months ago

I see a day, if the food and restaurant industry doesn’t change, when there will be WARNING LABELS on the Big Mac, Swanson Chicken Pot Pie and the EZ Mac packages similar to those on cigarettes.

It should be clear that ‘just one cigarette a day’ never would have led to tobacco ultimately being linked to so many deaths and diseases. And Big Macs, Pot Pies, EZ Mac and all the other processed food products are similar — eaten infrequently, no worries, but as a daily staple, very bad for one’s health.

harold greene
Guest
harold greene
9 years 8 months ago

Will video games be covered by this also? I think the correlation between sedentary digital entertainment and childhood obesity is stronger than unhealthy, child targeted food advertising. Purely anecdotal observation though. Additionally, if we are going to consider a behavior tax on sugar and corn syrup, then cable TV should be included in that discussion.

Corey Henry
Guest
Corey Henry
9 years 8 months ago

The fact is kids have been seeing substantially less food advertising for snack foods, cereals and beverages and the like for a number of years, with food makers voluntarily changing advertising and introducing numerous healthier products and menu items. Yet the obesity problem continues to grow.

The IWG’s proposed restrictions on commercial speech are so broad they would ban marketing for plenty of products we should be encouraging kids to eat more of.

The causes of obesity are many and they are complicated. The IWG has proposed choking the free speech rights of food producers without showing any evidence that their proposal will yield positive results. The IWG also ignores plenty of recent evidence that efforts to reduce marketing and product reformulation voluntarily done by food producers hasn’t slowed the obesity problem.

America’s obesity crisis warrants a serious, measured, and well-thought-out solution, something the IWG recommendations are not.

Luke Darnell
Guest
Luke Darnell
9 years 8 months ago

The IWG recommendations don’t seem to be based on evidence or research. It seems to me that companies have made a lot of changes over the past few years in terms of how much they market to children.

Thomas Bradshaw
Guest
Thomas Bradshaw
9 years 8 months ago

Obesity is a problem in the US, and the lifestyle choices — diet, exercise, etc. — people are making often make the problem worse. I see no evidence, however, that restricting food marketing will reduce instances of obesity. And by including marketing to teenagers, wouldn’t the government guidelines effectively restrict food advertising all together, since teenagers and adults watch many of the same programs?

Elise Cortina
Guest
Elise Cortina
9 years 8 months ago

I agree obesity is a complex problem that likely won’t be reversed with the imposition of marketing restrictions on food companies. What right does the government have anyway to decide what is okay to be marketed (read “good food”) and what is not (read “bad food”)? Isn’t it our job as parents to make that distinction? Is what’s good for my kids good for yours?

The proposed restrictions are so broad that they may have the unintended consequence of making it difficult for consumers to find information that would help in their decision-making. And the government doesn’t rely on truly sound evidence linking childhood obesity and food marketing to justify the restrictions. Again, it’s a complicated situation made worse by genetics, physical inactivity and lack of health and nutrition education, among other factors.

How about we encourage change through our wallets? Let’s let the food companies respond to consumer demand for healthier food, shall we?

Kevin Wilcox
Guest
Kevin Wilcox
9 years 8 months ago

The IWG searches for an absolute solution to the very complicated issue of childhood obesity. Blaming marketing for all the ills of our complex society won’t solve the problem. The IWG recommendations are not based on evidence or sound science or even coupled with other recommendations that might address things like physical activity or nutrition education. The IWG ignores the voluntary efforts of food companies to reduce marketing to adolescents. Punishing good efforts is the wrong way to go if we truly want corporate America to be a part of the solution.

John Allan
Guest
John Allan
9 years 8 months ago
The IWG is way off base with these so-called “guidelines,” which, in effect, would become de facto regulations for the industry. The obesity epidemic is mostly a recent phenomenon and I don’t believe advertising is to blame. If advertising was so strongly tied to obesity, as the IWG is supposing, then why wasn’t this an issue back in the 70s/80s when marketing of sweetened cereals, soft drinks, etc. was much more prevalent and healthy options did not exist? The answer lies completely in ENERGY BALANCE, folks, plain and simple. Eat all you want, but if you are not burning those calories the end result is a build-up of fat tissue. Any (honest and objective) nutritionist or health trainer will tell you this. In the 70s/80s, when I was growing up, my friends and I spent MANY hours per week outside playing, riding bikes, playing sports, etc., etc. The government, health advocates, and parents today need to realize this more than ever and focus on where the solution truly lies — more exercise and less video… Read more »
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