Greater product innovation, a shift in targeted markets and minimal sales impact will result from collective pledges announced earlier this month by supporters of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, industry sources said.
The 11 voluntary members of the initiative, first announced by the Council of Better Business Bureaus last November, committed to devoting 50% of advertising directed at kids under 12 to products representing healthy dietary choices and/or healthy lifestyle messages. Member companies — including Cadbury Adams, Campbell's, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey's, Kellogg's, Kraft, Mars, McDonald's, PepsiCo and Unilever — were also encouraged to develop individual pledges consistent with a core set of principles. They were recently revealed at a joint forum hosted by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
General Mills, for example, will stop advertising to children foods containing more than 12 grams of su-gar per serving by the end of 2008. Any product it advertises to kids under 12 must also meet or exceed its nutrition guidelines, which include limits on calories, fat, sodium and trans fat.
It's working on a healthier version of its noncompliant Trix cereal, which exceeds 12 grams of sugar per serving, so that it can meet the guidelines, noted General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe.
“We're working to reformulate that product, and we're confident that we'll be able to do so. However, if we're not able to, we'd no longer advertise the product to children,” he said. If considerable attempts at reformulation compromised the product's taste, the manufacturer would consider discontinuing the item, Forsythe noted.
Faced with a similar situation, Kellogg's might shift its targeted market to an older age group, noted Kris Charles, spokeswoman for the Battle Creek, Mich.-based manufacturer.
Last month, Kellogg's announced that by the end of 2008 it will either reformulate products to meet nutritional criteria or cease advertising them to children ages 6 to 11. Its standards include limits on calories, fat and sodium, as well as a 12-grams-per-serving sugar limitation. The application of Kellogg's nutrient criteria affects nearly 50% of its products.
“We're in the process now of evaluating the various brands that don't meet the criteria, to determine whether or not we'd be able to reformulate them and still maintain the taste, or shift the target market,” said Charles. “Products we've traditionally marketed to kids may be marketed to adults instead.”
Although he projects that any impact on sales would be minimal, Frank Dell, president of Dellmart & Co., noted that a change in advertising from the secondary kids' market to the primary purchaser could positively impact supermarket sales.
“Children under 12 have limited purchasing power but do have influence on the purchase,” he said. “By narrowing the consumer communication to the purchasing target market, this could have a greater impact.”
Jim Hertel, managing partner at Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill., observed that a desire to gain the loyalty of the influential under-12 age group will drive innovation.
“As these companies review their entire approach, any shortfalls that might accrue over time will be overcome with new and innovative products that don't have the same” nutritional pitfalls. “You have a short window through which to reach these young customers, and the lack of an ad for something like Happy Meals, for instance, could potentially skip an entire generation.”
Under the terms of PepsiCo's pledge, the company will only advertise Baked Cheetos, a reduced-fat snack, and Gatorade. Meanwhile, McDonald's has vowed to include only meals that meet specified calorie, fat, saturated fat and sugar limitations in ads geared toward the age group.
Unilever has adopted an Eat Smart/Drink Smart Logo program, and as of last month, only products that qualify for the logo are included in ads geared toward kids 6 to 12. The company's children's ads are currently limited to Skippy Peanut Butter and Popsicle products that meet the logo criteria.
Campbell's Soup has committed to having all of its ads directed at children under 12 feature better-for-you foods, such as lower-sodium soups and other products consistent with U.S. Dietary Guideline recommendations.
“Campbell's pledge doesn't address in-store promotions directly, because in-store is primarily an adult environment,” noted John Faulkner, spokesman for Campbell's. “Our commitment will impact the use of licensed characters and that sort of thing.”
Each participating company that is continuing to advertise to children has agreed to restrict advertising using third-party licensed characters to products that meet better-for-you criteria, and to websites promoting healthy lifestyles. One company, Mars, has pledged not to use third-party licensed characters in any of its advertising primarily directed at children under 12, while Hershey's will not advertise at all in media directed at children under 12.
The BBB will monitor and publicly report on the companies' compliance with their pledge.