F&B brands clean up their act

Anticipating the global move to raise standards of food and beverage brands marketing to children, 14 of Singapore's top F&B brands have pledged to change the way they advertise.

In a release detailing the "Responsible Advertising to Children Pledge", companies such as Coca-Cola, Ferrero, FrieslandCampina, General Mills, Kellogg's, Kerry, Mars, McCain, McDonald's, Mondelēz, Nestlé, Pepsico, Suntory and Unilever have agreed to only advertise products that meet agreed nutritional criteria based on accepted scientific evidence or applicable national and international dietary guidelines to children under 12 years of age or not advertise to children under 12 years of age at all.

These have also committed not to engage in any product communication in primary schools unless requested by, or agreed with, the school administration for educational purposes or to promote healthy living.

In a separate announcement, the Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Board said that new guidelines for advertising standards for marketing unhealthy food and beverages were under consideration.

McDonald's Singapore also said it has tweaked its products and marketing accordingly.

Yvonne Low, senior director, marketing and communications, McDonald's Restaurants Singapore told Marketing that its Happy Meals offer age-appropriate portion sizes with healthier options such as a corn cup, apple slices, low-fat high calcium milk and Ribena Less Sweet for parents to mix and match for a more well balanced meal.

"Together with industry partners, we have been in discussions with the Singapore Health Promotion Board on the guidelines about advertising to children. We respect their decision and, as a member of the Food Industry Asia (FIA), we pledge to stop advertising in media channels where children make up more than 35% of audience share from 1 January 2013," said Low.

However, a spokesperson at Coca-Cola told Marketing that the new ruling would not affect its marketing practices.

"People consume many different foods and beverages, so no one single food or beverage alone is responsible for people being overweight or obese. But all calories count, whatever food or beverage they come from, including those from our caloric beverages," she said.

"At Coca-Cola, we are committed to being part of the solution to address obesity - by partnering with government, academia, health groups, and other interested members of society," she said adding that the company already provides clear caloric information about its products on its packaging, supports physical activity programmes, and educates Singaporeans about nutrition and how to lead more balanced lifestyles.

These are members of the Food Industry Asia (FIA),a non-profit society based in Singapore and representing the views of the food and drink industry.

Individual company commitments will come into effect on 1 January 2013 and regular independent monitoring will be published to demonstrate compliance, said a release by the FIA.

The pledge is aimed at reducing the advertising of foods to children that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugars or salt and helping parents and teachers spread positive messages on balanced diets and healthy lifestyles.

More efforts in the form of these companies teaming with other stakeholders to adopt a more rounded approach including physical activity, nutrition labeling, nutrition education as well as food reformulation and innovation should also follow.

Director of communications, Will Gilroy, The World Federation of Advertisers said: "This type of self-regulation, where companies make clear and measurable commitments and follow them up with independent third-party monitoring, is shown to have led to a tangible and sizeable reduction in children's exposure to the marketing of certain food types."

Industry players also expect that the government will likely follow through on the legislation.

"Singapore has in place very stringent and sophisticated advertising guidelines. While we are speculating how the guidelines may turn out eventually, I am not surprised it may follow a similar legislation, given that it is a global movement," Subbaraju Alluri, chief executive officer, Grey Singapore, said.

"It is so good that our clients at KFC have anticipated this and since realigned their marketing strategy to focus on its core competencies."