food marketing restrictions benefit EVERYONE… even food and beverage manufacturers !$!


November 11, 2012 by amittnac

What do you think it would take for restrictions on food marketing to occur?                                                 Creative freedom and incentives for participation  …

Creative freedom:

The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI, created by the Better Business Bureau in 2006) and the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG- a group created in 2009 comprised of representatives from the FTC, CDC, FDA, and USDA) are two initiatives that aim to “improve the nutrition profile of foods marketed to children (1)” and to “encourage healthy dietary choices (3)” amongst children by providing healthy nutrition-related marketing guidelines for those food and beverage companies who choose to participate. Yet, regardless of their common goal, these two initiatives are regarded quite differently by the food and beverage industry (FB). While the guidelines set forth by the IWG, have been described by the FB as “overly strict,” and as “backdoor regulation(s) that will in effect wipe out advertising to children, eliminate millions of jobs and infringe on commercial free speech (2,5);” 17 food and beverage companies have decided to comply with the guidelines set forth by the CFBAI, including some of “ today’s largest food and beverage companies, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft, and ConAgra (3).”

I think that the FB’s starkly different responses to these similar initiatives must have to do with the way in which the marketing guidelines are presented to the FB- While the IWG has created guidelines/principles that participating companies must follow, the CFBAI allows participating companies to essentially develop their own guidelines as long as they address the “program’s core principles (2).” Perhaps, companies feel more comfortable participating in an initiative if they are given the creative freedom to develop/personalize the guidelines that will govern their marketing strategies.

So, is the approach taken by the CFBAI the key to industry-wide restrictions on food marketing?  Not quite yet… while the CFBAI participation rate is high, a study by Powell et al. that investigated “ trends in children’s exposure to food-related advertising on television by age, product category and company” found that between 2003 and 2009 “despite the marked reductions [in exposure to ads provided by CFBAI companies], the vast majority (88%) of CFBAI company ads seen in 2009 continued to be for high [saturated fat, sugar, and sodium] products (4).” Furthermore, the investigators observed that “ there were substantial variations in both changes in the amount of advertising seen by children and the nutritional content of the advertised products across CFBAI companies, highlighting the lack of common standards within the CFBAI.” Clearly, the impact of the CFBAI would be greater if participating companies were forced to develop guidelines that address a stricter set of core principles. ImageTo get a sense of the impact of the CFBAI on participating companies, I looked at the nutritional content of “Cookie Crisp”, a breakfast cereal that is produced by General Mills. While a 30 gram serving of this cereal contains “only” 10.3g of sugar (which falls within GM’s pledge of only providing <12 g of sugar per serving in children’s cereals), sugar is still listed as the SECOND ingredient…Implementation of stricter CFBAI guidelines is currently in-the-works, as of “July 2011, CFBAI released category-specific uniform nutrition criteria for foods advertised to children. The agreement requires partner firms to meet these new ‘tough but realistic’ criteria by the close of 2013 (3).” I am interested to see how the CFBAI companies respond to stricter guidelines…

Incentives for participation:

One thing that I do not think these initiatives emphasize enough is the fact that manufacturing healthier foods and adopting a marketing strategy that promotes healthy nutrition for children may, in fact, boost company sales. Perhaps this is why many of the largest FB companies chose to participate in the CFBAI- by doing so they showed their “commitment to societal and environmental wellbeing,” thereby establishing an “image” as a “ socially responsible marketer.” Research suggests, “Social responsibility improves products and enhances demand in the process yielding higher returns to the firm (3).” Corporate social responsibility as it relates to company participation in CFBAI and IWG is discussed in an article by Cohen et al.  titled, “Corporate Social Responsibility for Kids’ Sake: A dynamic Model of Firm Participation (4).”

The key to encouraging companies to participate in marketing restriction initiatives is to give them some flexibility in how they choose to implement the guidelines/ marketing restrictions (while still ensuring that they actually provide/market food that is good for children). Moreover, the financial benefits that come with being a socially responsible manufacturer/marketer should be emphasized.


  1. United States. FTC. Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children: Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self- Regulatory Efforts. Web. <;.
  2. “Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.” Better Business Bureau. N.p.. Web. 11 Nov 2012. <;.
  3. Cohen, Michael A, and Rui Huang. “Corporate Social Responsibility for Kids’ Sake: A Dynamic Model of Firm Participation.” (2012): n. page. Print.
  4. Powell, Lisa M, Rebecca M Schermbeck, et al. “Arch Pediatr Adolesc med.” Arch Pediatr Adolesc med. (2011): 1078-1086. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <;.
  5. ElBodhdady, Dina. “Lawmakers want cost-benefit analysis on child food marketing restrictions.” Washington Post 15 12 2011, n. pag. Print. <;.
  6. image:,r:1,s:0,i:77&tx=162&ty=68

3 thoughts on “food marketing restrictions benefit EVERYONE… even food and beverage manufacturers !$!

  1. The concept of “creative freedom” is certainly one that the F&B industry enspouses when negotiating/in talks with folks in the public health sector. One example is that of the National Sodium Reduction Intitative (NSRI, see which allowed the companies to determine what targets for packaged & restaurant foods were acheiveable. Yes, this does take longer for the changes to occur, and those of us impatient to see immediate improvements to the food supply might argue that this approach gives the F&B too much wriggle room. But perhaps time is what is needed — to allow consumers to gradually adjust to changes in the products they are accustomed to by slowly reducing the sodium content.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I like your two categories that are important here – creative freedom and incentives to participate. I think financial incentives are a great push to get corporations to do the morally/ethically right thing – until they see how promoting healthier items help their bottom line, there’s not much incentive for them to make a change.

    Speaking to product re-formulation, I liked the comment above that mentioned “perhaps time is what is needed”. Having completed many food science classes in my undergraduate career, it’s important to remember that most every ingredient in a food product has a purpose, and to require drastic changes will undoubtedly lead to changes in flavor, texture, appearance, and even safety (remember… sodium was originally used in food to keep us from getting sick!). So it is true in some ways that we need to give the industry wiggle room to find out what changes they can realistically do in the short and long term, in a way that keeps products safe, and acceptable to the consumer population. However, you can’t just completely let the food industry be in charge of making their products healthier! It will definitely require a balance from both sides, and in the mean time, marketing to children is something that should only be done with healthy products. I love seeing Elmo on fruit/veg packages!

  3. Lara Holland says:

    I agree with above… if junk food can come up with catchy phrases and pretty packaging, why can’t healthier foods? More importantly, “good for you, doesn’t have to mean, taste bad.” In fact, if we focused our efforts on learning how to prepare foods or package foods that taste good…. we might see trends change. Part of it is marketing and part of it is flavor.

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