In: Financial Times
By Jenny Wiggins,Consumer Industries Correspondent
Published: February 5 2007 02:00
Masterfoods, the makers of Mars and Snickers chocolate bars, is to stop marketing confectionery to children younger than 12 by the end of the year - the first time a major foodmaker has set such a high global age threshold for such products.
The measure reflects mounting concerns about the links between advertising and childhood obesity and follows moves by some public authorities to bring in tighter food regulations such as last year's ban on trans fats in New York's restaurants. The move by Masterfoods, one of the world's top 30 advertisers, is the biggest shift in marketing policy by a large food group since European officials threatened companies with regulation two years ago. It could drive other companies to adopt similar practices.
There are no global standards for marketing snack foods to children. Food companies typically have advertising age limits lower than 12 although some have no limits.
Nestlé says it does not encourage "over-eating" in children but it does not have an age limit. PepsiCo, which sells potato chips as well as soft drinks, says it does not have a global age limit for targeting children. Cadbury Schweppes does not target children under eight globally. Kraft does not advertise to children under six and says it markets only "better for you" products such as fruit juices and wheat crackers to children aged between six and 11.
Masterfoods already has a policy of not advertising to children under six.
But in a letter to Robert Madelin, the European Commission's director-general for health and consumer protection, the company says: "We have decided to make an official policy change to a cut-off age of 12 years for all our core products."
Core products include snack foods and confectionery. The letter says the policy, which will apply to all advertising, including online and new media, will be adopted by the end of the year.
The European Union's committee on diet, physical activity and health was meeting today in Brussels to discuss the progress companies are making on self-regulation.
Soft drink companies have made voluntary changes to their European marketing practices, with the Union of European Beverages Associations last year agreeing to stop advertising to children under 12 in Europe.
Coca-Cola does not market its fizzy drinks to children under 12 globally.
It is unclear how Masterfoods would stop children gaining access to snack food and confectionery websites, even if the websites are not directly targeted to children under 12.
On some of its websites, such as Starburst.com, children can play games and download screensavers.
One option may be to ask children whether they have their parents' consent to use the website or ask them to register their age.
But consumer groups say children can easily circumvent this and that online marketing activities such as games should be stopped altogether.