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Kids bombarded with junk food marketing

Which? exposes underhand practices of food giants


Chip on fork

Food companies are resorting to increasingly sophisticated and underhand marketing to push unhealthy foods to children, a new Which? report reveals.

‘Food Fables’ takes a close look at the tactics used by 12 of the UK’s leading food manufacturers to promote foods high in fat, sugar and salt to kids.

These techniques include:

  • Clubs – children could join the Haribo Club for £2.99 to receive sweets and gifts through the post and news bulletins with competitions
  • Viral marketing – the Coco-Pops website allowed children to register two or more people, if they included their email addresses, to compete to win a trip to Alton Towers
  • Branding – McDonald’s teamed up with the Funky Friends website, aimed at seven to 12 year old girls, giving away codes with Happy Meals allowing children access to special content on the site in a McDonald’s branded zone.

‘Food Fables’

The ‘Food Fables’ report also uncovers the inadequacies of company policies and the inconsistencies between the responsible policies they claim to adhere to and the techniques they actually employ.

For example, Coco-Cola says that it does not use celebrities who have a specific child focus. However, Wayne Rooney was used in a Coca-Cola promotion during the World Cup.

In July 2006, the Skittles (owned by Masterfoods) website let teams of boys versus girls compete for Robbie Williams tickets.

The site also offered a ‘buddyPing’ account where children could text their location to Skittles and it would text back the location of their friends. However, Masterfoods say ‘we do not advertise to children…we take special care not to emphasise peer pressure and not to generate pestering’.

‘Unhealthy food choices’

Which? Campaigns and Communications Director Nick Stace said: ‘Food marketers are treating children as blank canvases on which to paint their branding; embedding unhealthy food choices from a very young age and adding to the UK’s rising child obesity problems.

‘How can parents be expected to give their children a healthy, balanced diet when these sophisticated, underhand techniques are targeting their children often behind their backs? Most of their so called responsible marketing policies are simply empty rhetoric.’

Focus group research also undertaken by Which? showed just how influential junk food promotion is. Branding and packaging keeps them hooked and leads to them pestering their parents to buy foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

Nick Stace added: ‘The industry must show real progress in the next six months. Which? will be keeping the pressure on government to regulate if industry doesn’t respond voluntarily to curb these types of promotions for unhealthy food.

‘Which? wants to hear what parents think and how their children are targeted. To give your feedback visit our kids’ food campaign online site.

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