Creative marketing of junk food to kids under attack

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 16th July 2008

A new report has labelled food companies “irresponsible” in their marketing of food to children. The report, by consumer group ‘Which?’, has been slammed by the Food and Drink Federation as “misleading” and “sloppy”.

The report, which singles out a number of high profile companies, suggests that many companies are looking to text messaging competitions and social networking sites to boost the appeal of junk food to children. Titled ‘Food Fables’, it claimed that many companies were using irresponsible methods to target children and implied that current regulations needed to be tightened.

Kellogg’s, Cadbury, McDonald’s, Burger King, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were among those singled out, though ‘Which?’ did highlight that KFC and Weetabix had made “notable improvements”.

“Tackling the obesity problem demands action in many areas to make healthy choices easier,” Sue Davies, Chief Policy Advisor at Which?, claimed. “It’s time all food companies started to fully play their part and focused their vast array of creative and persuasive marketing techniques on selling healthier foods to children instead of less healthy ones.”

The Food and Drink Federation, however, believes the findings are deceptive and cite the tough legislation seen in the UK to support their case. “The only food fables are those you will read in this sloppy report, which lacks any real substance, is very subjective and paints a misleading picture of what is actually happening,” Julian Hunt , FDF Director of Communications, said. “Which? also fails to acknowledge the fact that the UK now has some of the strictest advertising regulations in the world, within which food companies are clearly operating to both the spirit and the letter of the law. Our members are going even further than these rules – introducing voluntary measures that are radically changing the marketing landscape here in the UK. On top of these changes, we are making a real difference to the health of the nation through our efforts to improve product recipes, develop healthier options and introduce clearer nutrition labelling.”

As of January 1 this year UK companies were no longer allowed to advertise unhealthy foods on TV programs which had high numbers of under 16 viewers. The decision was made in a bid to help tackle the high rate of childhood obesity but broadcasters fear that program quality will decline due to an expected loss of advertising revenue.