Production, packaging and sale of foods for children - FGC media response

20 July 2015

Fairfax Media asked FGC for comment regarding the production, packaging and sale of foods for children.

The reporter said the piece was sparked after she found a product called ‘Fruit Watches’ in a supermarket, “and then started seeing more and more treat foods dressed up as ‘play’ and packaged to attract the consumer (children) rather than the purchaser (adults) – bright pink packaging, for example, featuring games and characters”.

“At the same time, in recent weeks, we have seen several calls from health academics to restrict advertising of unhealthy foods; to stop targeting children via packaging and associated media (games on websites for example).”

Just a small part of the answers Katherine Rich gave to the questions below were used in a cover feature in the magazine ‘Your Weekend’, which appeared in The Press, The Dominion Post and The Waikato Times on 18 July:

Why is food that would usually be considered in the "treat" and "occasional" categories specifically packaged to appeal to children? 

Confectionery is made to be fun and enjoyable. As sweets historian Toni Risson has said, for kids, lollies “are part of the magic of childhood”, and I think many parents would agree with her. Every generation has a specific sweet or ice-cream they remember from childhood. Lollies are enjoyed by everyone and are created to be fun. Food is not just about sustaining life – it’s also about enjoyment and fun. I think that sometimes gets forgotten in the midst of the food debate. Food gives people enjoyment and it’s a big part of our culture. That’s why traditional children’s birthday parties are about treats like ice cream and jelly and cupcakes and lollies, not broccoli and rusks. Of course, the key is moderation in the consumption of all those things. Treat foods are not to be eaten every day. It’s an important message that parents teach their children. I’ve heard people say moderation is nothing more than a food industry catch-cry, but actually moderation makes absolutely perfect sense. It’s something many of us heard first from our parents and grandparents. Moderation is vital to any balanced diet. Most people understand that too much of anything, including water, is bad for you.

Packaging is an important part of a product, but I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on it as being the sole thing that attracts children – after all, one of the most popular products is the modern-day equivalent of the 10 cent mixture sold in local dairies in a plain white or plastic bag.  

Why is food like "fruit watches" or "snap 'n play" biscuits developed? Doesn't it give children added incentive to eat lollies and biscuits?

Sometimes the format makes treats more enjoyable, but I doubt it drives children to eat more than they would anyway. The biscuit product mentioned is a plain biscuit with a print on it for visual appeal, similar to a Girl Guide Biscuit. Whether biscuits and cakes are baked at home or in a factory, the aim is to make them look appealing.  There is also usually a clear difference between biscuits that should be regarded as treats and those that contain more nutritional value. Whatever the food, as parents we should always be keeping an eye on how much and what our kids are eating.  Our members also look carefully at the nutritional composition of foods mostly eaten by children. Some biscuits have been reformulated to make them better for children consuming them, e.g. by adding more fibre. 

One health researcher has labelled the marketing of food to children as "immoral". Any thoughts on this label?

Comments like these are over the top and bordering on hysterical. I don’t think Kiwi parents would see campaign creations such as The Milky Bar Kid or Cookie Bear in this light.  Some public health commentators made similar comments when one company put Yogi Bear stickers on apples, and they weren’t happy with Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob plain yoghurt, either. In some people’s eyes, manufacturers will never win.

Our member companies all adhere to food marketing rules overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority, and I’m not aware of there having ever been any breaches. The Children’s Code for Advertising Food says food ads should not undermine the wellbeing of children or government nutrition policy, and they shouldn’t encourage over-consumption of any food. Our bigger member companies have clearly-stated public policies that they will not target advertising in media where children are the main audience. Our members view the codes as important and the right thing to do. That’s no surprise as they’re parents too.

The amount of advertising to children on TV has decreased dramatically since 1999 when one of the key studies looking at food advertising during children’s programming was done. There is now no advertising during pre-school and limited advertising during other children’s programming times.  It’s also worth pointing out that some public health people have a different definition of what constitutes advertising to children. They tend to include young people up to 18 years of age (rather than up to 14), and when measuring children’s media in some studies they’ve included magazines such as Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Day and SkyWatch – not magazines that the general public would necessarily think of when hearing the rhetoric around supposed children’s campaigns.    

In the supermarket, a shopper encounters freeze-dried and packaged apple slices before an actual apple. Why? Why are the check-outs, where parents with children are a captive audience, loaded with "treat" foods (including ice-cream freezers in summer?)

 

The fresh fruit and vegetable sections in modern stores are all at the front of supermarkets. The array of fresh produce is the first thing shoppers encounter and cannot be avoided.  It’s a big area, and produce is grouped together so shoppers can conveniently choose what they want at once. It wouldn’t make sense to take carrots and put them on an end of aisle next to the health and beauty section. There are still the promoted specials, though. Shoppers like to buy their fresh produce all at once at the beginning of their shop.

I haven’t seen the freeze-dried apples you mention.

Regarding checkouts, supermarkets have responded to shoppers wanting treat-free checkouts. I was speaking with Countdown last month and was told that over 90% of stores have a confectionery-free aisle. You might like to ask the supermarkets about this to confirm.  

What role, if any, does the industry consider it plays in the development of healthy eating habits among children? What does the industry consider are the current impediments to children eating healthily (has the food industry contributed to childhood obesity issues, or is it a neutral player?)

Industry plays an important role working with others in the community to find solutions. In New Zealand, the food industry is actively involved in a wide range of community and school programmes to promote healthy living and a balanced diet. Much of this is unbranded to meet educators’ expectations. The most significant area is our members’ participation in the Heart Foundation’s Fuelled4Life programme (formerly the Food & Beverage Classification programme), but there is also the Heinz-Watties involvement in the New Zealand Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, the Frucor investment in the Life Education Trust, George Weston’s involvement in the ‘Nourish our Kids’ programme, and the eight FGC companies that support the ‘Kids Can’ programme. One of the most recent initiatives for younger children is the Sanitarium ‘Eat your Words’ programme for 5- to 6-year-olds. This programme aims to teach children about good diets and healthy fruit and vegetables, while at the same time teaching spelling and encouraging children to have fun along the way. Foodstuffs runs a great school programme called ‘Food for Thought’, too. 

Eating a healthy breakfast has been associated with reduced levels of obesity, and many of our members are heavily involved in school breakfast programmes, including Fonterra and Sanitarium in ‘Kickstart’, a massive nationwide programme; Kellogg in its ‘Breakfast for Better Days’; and George Weston in its ‘Nourish our Kids’. Members have in the past also contributed breakfast foods to participants in the HPA’s ‘Breakfast Eaters Have it Better’ programme. Many of these industry programmes provide breakfast, but more importantly they provide education about what is a healthy breakfast and a routine for eating.

Companies are also involved in community physical activity projects. Specific in-school programmes that provide excellent teacher and student resources include the unbranded ‘Be Healthy, Be Active’ programme funded by Nestlé which teaches year 7 and year 8 students about good diets and the importance of physical activity, and the Nestlé ‘Cook for Life’ programme, which provides hands-on experience for students about balanced diets and cooking good meals. Community education and physical activity programmes cover a range of ages and themes, including the hugely popular Sanitarium ‘Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon’, the ‘Under 5 Energise’ programme supported in part by Heinz-Watties, the ‘Cans Film Festival’, and Wattie’s ‘Project Cook’. The ‘Eat wise & Exercise’ programme was initially a collaboration of Brandworld of FGC and the Food Industry Group, but was finally brought to life by New World. Many of our members took part in two campaigns run by the retailer. Another programme that is aimed at young people is the Coca-Cola ‘Move 60’ project, which aims to get 100,000 teens moving. Some of our members also provide free nutrition advisory services.

Are voluntary codes (the star system, for example) enough, when only the healthiest food producers appear to be signing up to them? 

Food labelling is an important part, but a few centimetres on a pack is not a quick fix. Major companies have signed up to the Health Star Rating scheme and are putting it across their ranges. This work is continuing and we can expect to see more products joining it as labels are renewed. Consumers will see products with a range of stars, not just those at the top end. Both of the supermarkets have committed to using the scheme across their private label products, too.  The Food & Grocery Council has been actively involved in encouraging companies to take up the scheme and has been providing free advice on how to do this. If any companies read your story and want to put the scheme across their products, but aren’t members of FGC, we’d be happy to advise them, too.