Cadbury, Kellogg's on Defensive Over Child Obesity

25 February 2005

Two of the world's largest child-targeting brand owners this week staked out their defenses against the rising tide of attacks on their marketing tactics and product formulation by health and anti-obesity guerrillas.

  • Cadbury Schweppes is looking to shore-up its position in the drinks market - main brands 7 Up, Dr Pepper, Schweppes - by boosting its range of sugar-free variants such as 7 Up Plus and (in France) Biotrina and Oasis.

    The London-headquartered group on Wednesday unveiled a 14% increase in pretax profits to £642 million ($1.22bn; €926.7m), using the occasion as a platform to announce a raft of new diet product launches this summer.

    It also revealed that eighty per cent of its Adams chewing gum sales are sugar-free, as is a similar proportion of its Halls medicated confectionery brand.

  • Kellogg's, on the other hand, has adopted a defensive mix of denial tactics alongside development of new and healthier products.

    On Wednesday the US breakfast cereal and snacks colossus ruled out any change in its marketing strategy to children. The obesity issue, it insists, is about calorie intake and exercise, not "bad food".

    Chief financial officer David Mackay is adamant that Kellogg's isn't one of the bad guys. "There isn't really that much wrong with many of the foods that are available. I think ultimately if you talk to most of the scientists they say [calorie intake] is where the debate should be. It just gets a little bit emotional."

    Nonetheless, Kellogg's plans to launch its Kashi brand of whole grain cereals in the UK within two months and will shortly introduce a new version of All Bran in Japan.

    Asked if the company planned to emulate Kraft Food's move to reduce fats and sugars from its kids' food ranges, Kellogg's ceo Jim Jenness' answer was terse: "We don't move based on what the competition does," he said.

    "Kids have been eating our products for decades. Offering options for what kids may want and what their mothers may want them to eat is certainly a thing we're interested in doing."

  • And in Britain character-merchandising too is in the firing line. Multinational food manufacturers and character licensors alike are the target of an attack by the influential consumer group Which?

    In a scathing report, it identifies eighteen "cartoon culprits" in a shopping-cart survey that discovered unhealthy levels of fat, sugar and salt in products promoted by characters from children's TV and movies.

    Among the instances cited is The Incredibles, licensed by the Walt Disney Company to promote Nestlé Golden Nuggets - a breakfast treat containing 40 grams of sugar per 100 grams of product - four times the Food Standards Authority guideline for sugar content.

    Likewise Dreamworks' Shark Tale characters were used to hype Kellogg's Frosties, packs of which contained 38 grams of sugar per 100 grams of product, plus 1.5 grams of salt for good measure.

    In a Which? survey of 2,000 adults, 77% believed that using cartoon characters to promote food made it difficult for parents to refuse to buy unhealthy foods their children demanded.

    Says the body's campaigns and communications director Nick Stace: "Parents felt really angry about the way they were being manipulated by the food industry."

    And one mother with a pre-school child told a Which? focus group: "If David Beckham did an advert about an apple, telling them how good it is and listing its vitamins, all the kids would be screaming for one."

    Which? has published a food shoppers' guide in the form of a laminated card detailing what constitutes high levels of ingredients. The information is also available online.

    Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff