Kids still targeted by junk food marketingWhich? reveals firms using sites and competitions

16 July 2008

Four children eating in a kitchen

Food companies are using social networking sites and text messaging competitions to market unhealthy food to children, Which? reveals today.

We found that some companies who had pledged to stop marketing unhealthy food to under-12s have continued to target kids via cartoon characters, film tie-ins, celebrity endorsements and free offers.

That’s despite 88% of consumers saying these companies should be more responsible. 

Our report – 'Food Fables - the second sitting' - found that there have been notable improvements from some companies, such as Weetabix and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Lax regulations

But many major food companies are taking advantage of lax regulations and are still using irresponsible approaches to target children’s food choices.

For example, Kellogg’s encouraged people to text to receive a free ringtone as part of its zookeeper competition on high-sugar cereals. 

Coca Cola also introduced a Fanta branded mobile phone game, sent to all entrants of the ‘Want it, Win it’ competition.

Food companies also used popular websites such as Bebo, Facebook, You Tube and ClubdTV to reach children in their masses. 

Social networking

Cadbury websites included links to child-focused games and competitions, and Mars and Pepsico developed more sophisticated ‘cool’ brand sites, often linking promotions with popular social networking sites.

Which? chief policy adviser Sue Davies said: ‘We’re not against treats and we’re not against marketing, but we are against irresponsible company practices and hollow company commitments. 

‘You just have to walk around any supermarket to see the wealth of cartoon characters persuading children to pick the less healthy option.

‘Tackling the obesity problem demands action in many areas to make healthy choices easier. It’s time all food companies started to fully play their part and focused their vast array of creative and persuasive marketing techniques on selling healthier foods to children instead of less healthy ones.’ 

FDF responds

Julian Hunt, of the industry body the Food and Drink Federation, responded to the report saying food companies were operating within the 'spirit and letter' of the UK's strict advertising regulations.

He added:'Our members are going even further than these rules – introducing voluntary measures that are radically changing the marketing landscape here in the UK. 

'On top of these changes, we are making a real difference to the health of the nation through our efforts to improve product recipes, develop healthier options and introduce clearer nutrition labelling.'