By signing up to the ‘EU Pledge’ initiative, it said that it will commit to promoting compliance among its membership with the undertaking, which means that the firms involved will not target children under age 12 in print, TV or internet adverts, except, said the ESA, for products for which there is scientific backing.
The representatives said its membership will also avoid all advertising in primary schools except where specifically requested by the school.
The ESA added that from 1 January 2011, its members will be subject to a monitoring process.
According to UK watchdog Ofcom, media food promotion including television advertising and use of vending machines in schools are among the factors that can influence children's food choice.
In 2005 EU health and consumer affairs commissioner Markos Kyprianou gave stark warning to the food industry that they must restrict advertising of products that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) to children, or face legislation.
The EU Pledge followed in December 2007 with 11 leading food and beverage companies all agreed to stop running junk food ads on TV, in print and on the internet to under-12s by the end of 2008.
The original signatories, which represent more than 50 per cent of the food and beverage advertising spend in the EU, included Burger King; Coca-Cola; Danone; Ferrero; General Mills; Kellogg; Mars, Nestlé and Unilever as well as two ESA member companies, LU Snack Foods (Kraft Food) and PepsiCo.
The ESA said that their commitment to the TV advertising pledge was assessed in 2009, with the companies involved achieving a 99.8 per cent compliance rate. The association added that 914 non-compliant spots were found in print ads or online.
Other ESA members include Intersnack, Lorenz Snack-World, Procter & Gamble, Unichips - San Carlo and Zweifel Pomy-Chip.
Sue Davies, chief policy adviser at Which? – the UK advocacy group - said that it is pleased that the ESA membership is recognising the need to market products more responsibly to children.
However, she told BakeryandSnacks.com that the EU Pledge needs to go further “as it only covers younger children, doesn't extend to all forms of marketing used to target children and needs to have stricter definitions for which foods are covered."
Kid’s food campaign
In February this year, the UK government said it would allow product placement in television programmes, but it said that foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS), and alcohol will be excluded.
Food and consumer groups heralded thus exclusion as a victory for their campaigns. Jackie Schneider, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign at Sustain, said: “It is good news that the massive pressure from health, consumer and children’s groups has forced Ben Bradshaw to drop plans to allow the product placement of junk food.”
Meanwhile, all the major UK political parties have made election pledges to address the issue of advertising to children during the current election campaign.
The Conservative Party has taken the strongest stance on the issue, stating that it will prevent any company found to be in serious breach of rules governing marketing to children from bidding for government advertising contracts for three years.
It also said it will establish a new online system that gives parents greater powers to take action against irresponsible commercial activities targeted at children; and empower schools to ban advertising and vending machines in schools.