11 top companies reaffirm advertising to kids policy

Eleven of the country’s biggest food and drink companies pledged to adopt new rules limiting advertising to children under the age of 12 — just hours ahead of a Federal Trade Commission hearing in mid-July on the same subject.

Working through the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ (CBBB) Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, the 11 are Cadbury Adams USA, Campbell Soup Co., Coca-Cola Co., General Mills Inc., Hershey Co., Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Inc., McDonald’s USA, PepsiCo Inc. and Unilever. CBBB claims these companies accounted for two-thirds of children’s food and beverage TV advertising in 2004.

The self-imposed rules include pledges by seven companies to no longer use licensed characters, such as those made popular through movies or TV shows, to advertise online or in print media unless they're promoting their healthier products. Four other companies said they do not advertise at all to children under 12. Generally, products are to meet new “better-for-you” nutrition criteria, specifically including limiting cereals to 12 or fewer grams of sugar per serving.

“These companies have pledged to focus essentially all of their advertising primarily directed to children under 12 on products meeting better-for-you standards or refrain from advertising to that age group,” said Steven Cole, CBBB’s president/CEO. “These expansive commitments significantly exceed the initiative’s baseline requirements. In addition, all participants will take the unprecedented step of voluntarily opening their commitments to the BBB’s independent compliance monitoring and reporting.”

Kellogg made headlines – and jumped the gun a bit — a month earlier when it said it will either reformulate its most popular children’s products, such as Froot Loops and Pop Tarts, or stop marketing them to children under 12.

CEO David Mackay unveiled the plan in late June. The announcement immediately persuaded the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood to drop plans, announced last year, to sue Kellogg for marketing “junk food” to young children.

Mackay said the products would be reformulated to tightened nutritional standards, but, “If we can't make those products taste just as good as they do today and make them as appealing, then we won't reformulate them and we won't advertise them.” The changes are expected to take place by the end of next year.

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