The Kellogg Company today announced it will adopt nutrition standards for the products it markets to children, pledging to reformulate those products that fall short of the criteria, or to cease marketing them altogether.
The major commitment forms a milestone in global efforts to promote responsible marketing to children, as governments, health groups and industry worldwide focus on reducing the growing incidence of childhood obesity and related disease.
In a statement issued today, Kellogg said it will implement nutrition criteria for all products marketed to children under the age of 12. These set an upper threshold per serving of less than or equal to 200 calories, less than or equal to 2 grams of saturated fat, labeled 0 grams of trans fat, less than or equal to 230 milligrams of sodium and labeled 12 grams of sugar.
The cereal and snack food giant said that 50 percent of its products marketed to kids currently do not meet the criteria. These items will either be reformulated to meet the new Kellogg Global Nutrient Criteria, or they will no longer be marketed to children under 12 by the end of 2008.
The firm willl also continue its policy of not marketing to children under the age of six.
Kellogg said its nutrition criteria, which "set a new standard of responsibility", will also guide targeted future innovation and product development. The firm's ultimate aim is to provide consumers with "even more product choices with enhanced nutritional value".
Today's announcement is a significant step in reducing marketing to children, an issue that has been at the forefront of public concern in recent years.
Last year, US consumer groups Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Campaign for Commercial- Free Childhood (CCFC) announced their intent to sue Kellogg and Viacom, parent company of the Nickelodeon children's television network, for their marketing practices to children.
The groups today said they will not proceed with the lawsuit. CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson praised Kellogg, saying that with its new initiative, the firm has "vaulted over the rest of the food industry".
The move does indeed reveal a significant level of commitment from the firm, and goes a long way in addressing current childhood health concerns. At the same time, it also reflects well on the image of Kellogg as a socially responsible group.
"Today, only 27 percent of Kellogg advertising spending in the US is directed to children under 12 and we've always approached that communication responsibly," said David Mackay, president and chief executive officer, Kellogg Company.
"We're taking these steps to address increasing concerns about marketing to children and further strengthen our commitment to responsible marketing. In addition, we plan to increasingly emphasize products with enhanced nutritional value as well as continuing to find ways to emphasize nutrition and healthy lifestyles in our marketing to children."
Today's announcement follows another major commitment last year by Kellogg and nine other leading food companies to shift their advertising targeting children towards healthier options.
Initial participants in the voluntary self-regulation program, which is backed by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB), the parent group of the industry-funded Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU), are Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald's, PepsiCo and Unilever. Masterfoods has also since joined, bringing the current total up to 11 participating companies.
These companies, which are thought to account for more than two-thirds of children's food and beverage television advertising expenditures, committed to devote at least half of their kids' advertising to promote healthier products, good nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
Kellogg today said it will begin implementing its new nutrition commitments immediately, wherever this is possible. Full implementation of all commitments will be completed by the end of 2008.
This will include adjusting the company's marketing practices to children on TV, print, radio and Internet as well as how those products are marketed, including use of licensed properties, web site activities directed to children, promotions/premiums, product placement and in-school marketing.
In addition, beginning later this year, the firm will feature Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) on the front of ready-to-eat cereal packages in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
In the US, new packaging will feature an easy-to-use labeling system on the top, right-hand corner of cereal boxes, identifying percentages of calories, total fat, sodium and grams of sugar per serving. The front-of-pack labels will also identify the nutrients American consumers need to consume more of including fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E.
The firm first pioneered the use of GDAs in Europe and Australia, where the labeling approach has been well-received and adopted by the industry.
It is now undertaking efforts to encourage other food and beverage companies in the US to join the initiative, and said it is in ongoing dialogue with industry on uniformity in labeling.