The Italian snack makers signed up to the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which was set up by the European Commission in 2005 in an attempt to encourage stakeholders to engage on the issue of obesity in Europe.
As of this month, the pair – both members of the European Snacks Association (ESA) - have committed to:
- No advertising of products on TV, print and internet to children under the age of 12 in the European Union (advertising to media audiences with a minimum of 35% of under 12s).
- No communication related to products in primary schools, except where specifically requested by, or agreed with, the school administration for educational purposes.
The critical choice: Change formulation or marketing
ESA’s director general Sebastian Emig said the firms and others faced a choice between making changes to products to meet certain nutritional criteria or making changes to the communication of those products. He said that both options were “good”, but in this case the firms had chosen the “stricter” of the two, and added this was not a case of firms failing to make changes to the products themselves.
Asked if the first of the pledges covered advertisement through social media and online games, he said it did not but that companies would still have to be careful under the watchful eye of NGOs. On this note he said firms were also steering clear of event sponsorship, even if this was requested by schools and therefore abided by the conditions of the initiative.
He said the announcement, which saw two additions to the already committed ESA member companies - Chips Group, KiMs (owned by Orkla), Intersnack, Kellogg, Lorenz Snack-World, PepsiCo Unichips - San Carlo, Zweifel Pomy-Chip - showed that the industry was self-regulating.
In recent years lobbyists like the Children’s Food Campaign NGO have called for tighter controls on social media marketing, claiming that two years after ASA extended laws to include the online channels, the body was still failing to protect children. This year the confectionery and snack industry came under fire in a Channel 4 documentary that accused the sector of peddling what it called ‘junk food’ through online games.
While the pledge did not yet cover social media or these so called ‘advergames’, Emig said companies were unlikely to take the risk of exploiting this grey zone. “I don’t think they would use that as a loophole. The watch dogs would directly identify that.”
On the choice between reformulation and re-communication, he said the snack industry took its role in public health seriously and said firms were already making reductions, noting somewhat elliptically: “Everybody is a consumer – people working on the factory floor are consumers.”
Primary school lessons
The pledge will mean that the two firms cannot engage with primary schools unless asked specifically for educational purposes. He said pledge members were often approached by schools to help set up things like sports events, giving the example of Mars and a Polish sports day.
Emig said firms weren’t handing out products at these events, but giving educational and organisational support but remained wary of even this kind of sponsorship due to NGO rebuke.
He said the loss of funding may lead to a reduction in school activities and asked: If an invitation for a sports event contained the logo for a plumber, electrician and a bakery firm, why draw a line with the baker?