Report may require firms to reveal food marketing to kids data

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Marketing, Ftc

Food and beverage manufacturers may soon be required to disclose
detailed information on their marketing activities and expenditures
targeted toward children and adolescents, the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) has said.

But before the FTC submits a request for Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review to major firms, it is soliciting public comments on its proposal to collect this information.

Comments, which must be received by December 21 2006, are designed to aid the Commission in the preparation of a Food Industry Marketing to Children Report, which will include an analysis of commercial advertising time on television, radio, and in print media.

The report will also examine: in-store marketing; direct payments for preferential shelf placement; events; promotions on packaging; all internet activities; and product placements in television shows, movies, and video games.

The Commission, which has the authority to request the disclosure of this data under section 6(b) of the FTC Act, proposes to send information requests to around 50 major food and beverage firms and fast food restaurants in the US.

Companies likely to receive these requests are those selling the types of products that appear to be most frequently advertised to children. These include breakfast cereals, snack foods, candy and gum, sodas and other beverages, frozen and chilled desserts, prepared meals and dairy products.

In addition, the FTC proposes to collect information from major marketers of fruits and vegetables to ensure that data are gathered regarding efforts to promote consumption of these foods among children and adolescents.

The information requests will seek information regarding, among other things: the types of foods marketed to children and adolescents; the types of media techniques used in these marketing efforts; the amount spent on this marketing; and the amount of commercial advertising time directed to children and adolescents that results from this spending.

All information received will remain confidential, said the FTC, and it will also be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, the information presented in the report will not reveal and company specific data.

In March this year, the FTC had again requested comments and relevant information. However, it is soliciting comments once more as the responses it received did not supply sufficient data in order for it to complete its report.

Those comments it did receive earlier this year were from five food industry associations, two public health advocacy organizations, a marketing trade organization, and one individual. In general, the comments suggested resources from which relevant information may be available, and points to consider in developing the report.

However, the comments presented minimal information, especially empirical data, on the nature and extent of marketing activities and expenditures targeted to children and adolescents, which prompted the renewed information request.

The move by the FTC is another step towards tighter regulations on the types of foods promoted to children as the nation faces mounting childhood obesity rates.

And although the food industry has made significant steps to improve formulations and promote healthier products, the majority of foods marketed to children remain high in sugar, fat or salt, and are often devoid of nutrients.

And marketers are turning to more than the conventional television adverts in their attempts to appeal to the younger generation.

A study published in July by the Kaiser Family Foundation charity revealed that eight out of the world's top ten food brands now target children through online marketing. Corporate websites including Kellogg's, Wrigley's, General Mills, PepsiCo and Nestle were found to encourage children to interact with brands in more personal and detailed ways than other conventional advertising modes.

The study prompted a discussion into current self-regulatory guidelines, and US policymakers in Congress, the FTC and the Institute of Medicine vowed at the time to address the issue.

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