America’s food and beverage makers, in tandem with casual restaurants including Burger King, have stepped up their marketing offensive against federal regulators who are seeking to impose tough new “voluntary” standards about marketing to children.
Industry groups are intensifying their battle on two fronts: extending more effort on self-governing programs to offer more healthy-product options and to soft-pedal their marketing, and punching back harder against the proposal by the Obama administration’s Interagency Working Group (IWG) on marketing food to children.
“The IWG proposal is truly radical and unprecedented,” Dan Jaffe, EVP of government relations for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), said last week. Ratcheting up the group’s recent rhetoric, he said, “It calls for a massive re-engineering of the entire food industry, based on nutrition standards that go far beyond any ever approved by a government agency.
“The proposal calls for sweeping restrictions on the marketing of a wide array of healthy products, not only to children but to adults as well. As such, it violates the First Amendment rights of both marketers and consumers. Worst of all, there is absolutely no discussion or proof that these massive changes, which would cost billions of dollars if carried out, would have any direct impact on reducing childhood obesity rates.”
In the meantime, the industry is rolling out some good cops as well. Burger King, Denny's and Au Bon Pain are among the biggest restaurant brands backing a new healthy-kids menu initiative called Kids LiveWell.
An initiative of the US industry's lobbying arm, the National Restaurant Association, it requires meals carrying the LiveWell logo to contain two servings of fruits or vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy – and 600 or fewer calories. Five other quick-serve brands – notably, not McDonald's or Subway – and 13 other inaugural partners launched LiveWell.
And on Thursday, a group of food-industry partners – a roster with a huge overlap in membership with the ANA, this one including McDonald's – said it would revise a set of voluntary standards for marketing to kids according to general standards for each type of food, beginning in 2014.
The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative was launched with the help of the Council of Better Business Bureaus a few years ago but until now has relied on the companies to come up with their own definitions of “healthy” in how they restricted marketing to kids.
Critics immediately assailed all of these actions as self-serving for the industry, not only too little but too late. That was no surprise. This is one food fight that won’t be over soon.