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Advocates slate soft drink 'misleading' marketing, urge TV watershed

By Jane Byrne , 29-Aug-2011

UK children’s food advocates, critical of marketing tactics by soft drink makers, are calling for further restrictions on TV advertising in a bid to curb what they claim are the industry’s misleading messages to children and parents.

A new report from the Children’s Food Campaign entitled “Soft Drinks, Hard Sell” claims juice makers are being deceptive in terms of how they market their products to consumers, particularly children and parents, and that images promoting fruit content on some drinks diverts shoppers’ attention away from the significant added sugar in the products in question.

“It is disingenuous for any manufacturers to argue that a marketing campaign that misrepresents the product and misleads consumers is excusable because its fruit content is listed on an ingredients panel,” argue the advocates, who reviewed soft drink marketing during June and July this year including outdoor and TV adverts, websites and other sources.

Examples of misleading messages highlighted in the publication include a Britvic website which suggests, said the campaigners, that its products are better than water at keeping children hydrated, and a Vimto marketing campaign, which the authors noted as placing a major emphasis on the drink’s raspberry content, while raspberry juice, it said, makes up just 0.1 per cent of the juices’ ingredients.

"Unfair and mistaken" assessment

The British Soft Drinks Assoication (BSDA), in a emailed statement to FoodNavigator.com, said that the report is "unfair and mistaken" as it is "based on a partial and incomplete understanding of the facts."

"It is important that children drink enough fluid to stay properly hydrated, particularly in hot weather or after exercise. Children are more likely to drink enough if they like the taste of the drinks they are offered.

The label of each drink carries the ingredients list, including the juice content, and nutritional information. The GDA (Guideline Daily Amounts) scheme ensures that the most important nutritional information is visible at a glance on the front of the pack," continued the trade body, which claims that soft drinks, like all food and drink, should be consumed as part of a balanced diet.

The Children’s Food Campaign’s Clare Panjwani, who researched and wrote the report, said:

“We need better regulation to protect children from marketing for soft drinks and other junk food, and better food labelling so that parents and children can tell more easily what’s in the products they are buying.”

The BDSA argues that advertising and labelling are covered by strict regulation and independent control, to which soft drinks companies are already subject.

TV watershed urged

Currently, adverts for food and drink products defined as ‘less healthy’ according to the nutrient profiling model developed by the UK's Food Standards Agency are not allowed to be screened during children’s (under 12s) television programming.

And while the Children’s Food Campaign’s says it supports this regulation, the group argues that the ruling does not protect children - particularly those at the older end of the scale - during their television viewing outside of those periods.

"Government should therefore introduce a 9pm watershed for unhealthy food and drink products, as this would provide more effective protection for children. Similarly robust protective regulation also needs to be extended to all other marketing media, such as outdoor and online advertising," concludes the Children’s Food Campaign, which is coordinated by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming in the UK.

Will Gilroy, spokesperson for the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), told this publication that, at EU level, self-regulation on marketing to under 12s is “clearly working.” He cites the success of the EU pledge – an initiative including 18 companies – among them Coca Cola and PepsiCo - to limit their advertising to children.

“Independent monitoring shows that as a result of the commitment, European children under 12 years have been exposed to 1/3rd less advertising in total and 2/3rd less advertising for products that do not meet companies’ “better for you criteria” when comparing data between 2005 and 2010,” notes Gilroy.

This milestone, he added, has been commended by the European Commission as “an important step in the right direction.”

The Children's Food Campaign report can be dowloaded here .

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