CSPI 'Flunks' 74% of Kids' Food Marketers

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After analyzing 128 companies' policies regarding food marketing to children, nonprofit watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has issued a "report card" that gives nearly three-quarters (95) of them an "F" grade for not having policies or having "weak" policies.

The study, spanning food/beverage manufacturers, restaurant chains and entertainment/media companies, did not attempt to assess the companies' actual compliance in cases in which marketing-to-kids policies are in place. Instead, last summer, CSPI staff collected information on the existence/nonexistence and content of company policies via telephone interviews, company Web site searches, articles in the Nexis news service and Google keyword searches.

Companies were identified for inclusion based on food marketing expenditures data (including the Federal Trade Commission's 2008 report on marketing to children) and studies of the most often- visited kids' Web sites. Companies from the top 100 food processors and restaurants that market to children, as well as media companies with top-ranking/most popular licensed characters, movie theater chains, kids' TV channels, kids' movies and kids' magazines were included.



All 16 companies that have policies through the Council of Better Business Bureaus' Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) were included (CFBAI's principals include in-school marketing as well as other kids' food marketing). Of the 128 companies analyzed, 87 (68%) were found to have no policy regarding food marketing to children, earning them an automatic "F." Most of these "no policy" companies are restaurant chains or entertainment companies: Just 10 (24%) of the 42 restaurants analyzed and 13 (22%) of the 58 media entities analyzed were found to have policies, versus 18 (64%) of the 28 F&B manufacturers analyzed.

The long list of "no policy" companies includes the owners of restaurant chains Arby's, Chili's, Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, Church's Chicken, Cheesecake Factory, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Carl's Jr., Hardee's, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Denny's, Applebee's, IHOP, Domino's Pizza, Golden Corral, Jack in the Box, Little Caesar, Panda Express, Panera Bread, Papa John's, Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen, Romano's Macaroni Grill, Home Town Buffet/Old Country Buffet, Sizzler, T.G.I. Friday's, Texas Roadhouse, Waffle House, Wendy's and Whataburger.

However, CSPI's "no policy" list does include some major food and beverage manufacturers, such as McKee Foods Corp. (Little Debbie snack cakes), Pinnacle Foods Group LLC (Aunt Jemima, Lender's, Duncan Hines), Sara Lee Corp., Schwan's Home Service, Inc. and Sunkist Growers, Inc. Eight companies were deemed to have "very weak" or vague policies, also earning them an "F": Bob Evans Farms, Inc., CBS Corp., American Dairy Queen Corp., Discovery Communications, LLP, Mattel, Inc., NBC Universal, Inc., Univision Communications Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (New Line Cinemas).

No company received an "A." Only one -- Mars, Inc. -- received a "B+," based both on its policy of not marketing to children under 12 and having marketing policies that cover "most of the key media approaches used to reach children, with the exception of on-package marketing and most marketing in high schools," according to CSPI.

One media company (Qubo Venture, LLC) and one food and beverage maker (Procter & Gamble, via its Pringles brand marketing) earned "B" grades. Six were graded "B-": Nestlé USA, Kraft Foods Global, Inc., Cadbury Adams USA, LLC, Hershey Company, Dunkin' Brands and General Mills, Inc. Seventeen companies received a "C."

Those getting a "C+" were Post Foods, PepsiCo, Inc., Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and Coca-Cola Company. The "C's" were Walt Disney Company (ABC, Funschool and Pixar), Burger King Corp., Campbell Soup Company., Sesame Workshop, Hostess Brands, Kellogg Company and ConAgra Foods, Inc. (Chef Boyardee, Kid Cuisine and Peter Pan).

The "C-" list includes Unilever (Popsicle, Skippy), Highlights for Children, Inc., Dannon Company, McDonald's USA, LLC, H.J. Heinz Company (Bagel Bites) and Viacom International Inc. (Nickelodeon). (Per CSPI, companies that have a "no advertising to children under 12" policy in addition to Mars, Inc. include Cadbury Adams, Coca-Cola, Dunkin' Brands, Hershey, Highlights for Children, H.J. Heinz Co., Krispy Kreme and P&G. Those with a "no advertising to children under six" include Campbell Soup, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft, Nestlé, Post Foods and Unilever.)

Seven companies were graded "D," including "D+'s" Sunny Delight Beverages Co., Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corp., Cartoon Network and Ruby Tuesday, Inc., and "D's" Doctor's Associates Inc. (Subway), Yum Brands, Inc. (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell) and CEC Entertainment Concepts L.P. (Chuck E. Cheese).

The aspects of policies that were analyzed spanned a broad range, including advertising in traditional and digital media, product placements, in-school and other marketing, as well as the nutrition standards applied in marketing policies.

Among all F&B manufacturers with marketing-to-kids policies, 94% had either nutrition standards or no-marketing-to-kids standards. In addition, 50% of restaurants and 46% of entertainment companies with kids' marketing policies had nutrition standards. Among companies with policies, 61% of food manufacturers, 50% of restaurants and 15% of entertainment companies had nutrition standards considered "good" by CSPI, or policies of not marketing food to kids.

"Despite the industry's self-regulatory system, the vast majority of food and entertainment companies have no protections in place for children," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan, who headed up the study.

Noting that the FTC, together with other federal agencies, is expected to propose a set of nutrition criteria and other standards for foods marketed to children that the FTC "hopes" will be adopted on a voluntary basis once finalized in July, Wootan added that if companies who market food to kids do not adopt the standards voluntarily, "they will be clanging the death knell of their self-regulatory initiative and inviting strong government involvement in food marketing aimed at kids."

CSPI's bottom line, as summarized in its "report card" document (available on its Web site): "In order for self-regulation to result in meaningful change, all food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants and entertainment companies that market to children should adopt a uniform set of nutrition standards and apply them to the full range of their marketing to children. If substantial progress in corporate marketing practices does not occur by Jan. 1, 2012, the federal government should adopt legislation or regulations to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy foods."

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