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The UK is Trying to Put a Cap on Junk Food Marketing Aimed at Children

The UK is Trying to Put a Cap on Junk Food Marketing Aimed at Children

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The Labour Party in the UK is trying to ban junk food, alcohol, and cigarette advertisements marketed to young people

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Frosted Flakes are grrr-eat! But, not so grrrr-eat for growing bodies.

The U.K.’s Labour Party just announced proposals to ban alcohol, cigarette, and junk food advertisements aimed at children. If the law is passed, it will mean that junk food, sweets, and fast food commercials would not be able to appear on television until 9 p.m., according to The Independent. The Labour Party also proposes putting a cap on the amount of sugar, salt, and fat in food products aimed at children, as well as a nationwide emphasis on physical activity.

According to the Labour Party, the drastic changes have been proposed in an effort to curb the rising costs of diabetes that has swept the nation, which is expected to rise to £17 billion in the next 20 years. The U.K. is currently the third-most obese country in Western Europe, according to The Guardian.

But even though putting limits on junk food marketing may seem like a good idea, critics feel that the government would be overstepping its boundaries.

“Banning and legislation not always the answer,” said health secretary Jeremy Hunt. “Backing families to make better choices brings lasting change”.

Health matters: obesity and the food environment

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Negative Effects Of Advertising On Children

According to the American Psychological Association, an average child is exposed to more than 40,000 TV commercials a year. Studies also suggest that children can recall the content after a single exposure to a commercial and may express a desire to buy the product (1).

Thus, it is imperative to understand the impact of advertising on children. Although the adverse effects of watching advertisements may outweigh the positives, not all advertisements are bad, and some could positively influence children.

First, let us consider the negative effects of advertising on children.

1. Influences their buying decisions

Research suggests that children who watch too much television are likely to demand more toys or other products. Until they are teens, children would not be able to identify advertisements as marketing messages, meaning they could perceive these messages and exaggerations as truths and demand to buy those products. In some cases, these ads can stay with them until they become adults (2).

2. Provokes tobacco and alcohol consumption

Advertisements on alcohol and tobacco can have significant repercussions on children and teens. Tobacco and alcohol advertising often targets the vulnerabilities of youth, presenting them as the key to improving self-image and independence, thus provoking children to consume them.

3. Causes eating disorders

Advertisements commonly use young and beautiful women to promote beauty products. It has become a norm to use only fair-skinned women, creating the stereotype that fair skin is beautiful and acceptable in society. Similarly, some ads perpetuate the stereotype that a slim body is healthy and beautiful. Such ads might make children conscious of their appearance and develop a negative body image. These might also lead to eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia.

4. Develops materialistic feelings

The constant bombardment of advertisements might dictate every moment of your child’s life, and before you realize it, they may begin to define themselves by what they have and what they don’t for who they are. This personality change can create a void in their lives, and they may try to fill it with materialistic things.

5. Beguiles children to try dangerous stunts

Advertisements often contain false claims or exaggerated content with the intent to attract consumers and grab their interest. Children who are naive may believe them to be true and try to imitate dangerous stunts at home. Although these are accompanied by a statutory message, they are generally overshadowed by the advertisements’ pomp and show.

6. Causes obesity

One of the contributing factors behind childhood obesity is advertising. According to the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, food companies spend almost $11 billion on TV advertising annually (3). Furthermore, a study conducted in Brazil found that 50% of the advertising directed towards children is related to food, and 80% of those are unhealthy foods high in sugar, fats, and salt (4). Advertisements present the wrong notion that consuming a specific drink or fast food makes children successful or happy.

Under the influence of such ads, children tend to demand to buy more unhealthy foods, leading to obesity.

7. Develops negative feelings

Advertisements usually mock or compare products to show how one product is superior or better than the rest. Children might get influenced by these commercials and start comparing themselves with their peers or believing they are either superior or inferior to the rest. Such behavior may either lower their self-confidence or make them feel superior to others.

8. Influences them to resort to impulsive buying

Brands usually create advertisements with a persuasive intent so that the users buy their products. By repeatedly watching these ads, children might resort to impulsive buying even when they do not need the product.

9. Influences them to like high-end and expensive things

Under the influence of advertisements, children might develop a liking for high-end and branded clothes, shoes, and other products. They may even develop a disregard towards other brands that offer products of the same levels of utility but are not featured in ads.

10. Provokes violence and aggressive thoughts

Some advertisements may contain violent and aggressive content geared toward adults. But when children watch these, they might misinterpret them and resort to bullying or demeaning peers or siblings. Such negative behaviors developed in early childhood may stay with them into adulthood.

We are coming for your children

The dreamy video montage that opened last month's conference on marketing to children seemed designed to bring a tear to every advertiser's eye. "Let's take a look at the way it used to be," said the event's chair, veteran marketer Philip Spencer, before adding a tongue-in-cheek, "in the good old days."

Beamed on to a big screen in a conference room in the basement of a London hotel were clips of classic adverts from across the decades. There was "Don't forget the fruit gums, mum!" from 1956, Heinz's "Don't be mean with the beans, mum!" from the 1970s, right through to the McCain Oven Chips ad from 1989, which featured a hungry young boy booming "Feed me!" at his mother in a Desperate Dan bass. "If we could still do that sort of thing, I'm guessing none of you would be here now," said Spencer.

Watching the video was a select audience of over 100 representatives from the world's top brands, including Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Nestlé Rowntree, HSBC and Tesco.

All had paid more than £600 for a day-long masterclass organised by Marketing magazine, entitled "How do you create effective, yet ethical, campaigns that excite both children and their parents?" The day included sessions on the dos and don'ts of getting your brand into classrooms, how to harness pester power and how to use internet and mobile marketing to get to "technology-savvy" children.

All delegates were hoping to get tips on how to capture the children's market without getting in trouble with the regulators. Why they want to keep the business is a no-brainer: last year the charity Childwise estimated that children in the UK spend £4.2bn annually, an increase from £3.9bn in 2005. Other figures suggest that children assert an influence over almost 10 times that amount.

That is why firms that do not necessarily need to advertise to children to stay in the black still do so. When I asked the conference's keynote speaker, Jill McDonald, the aptly named chief marketing officer for McDonald's in northern Europe, whether the firm would still be commercially viable if it stopped targeting children in its marketing altogether, she admitted that it would - but that McDonald's was concentrating on being a force for good for children. "We have a responsibility to educate," she said. Quite how this tallies with the firm's current Shrek film tie-in, or the game-filled Kids Zone section of its website, where children are invited to shoot out McDonald's logos in a Space Invaders-type game, is unclear.

The advertising industry often likes to deny that it targets children at all. That is certainly the viewpoint taken by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the trade body for 265 leading marketing and advertising agencies. "Advertisers don't target children," says Marina Palomba, the IPM's legal director, when I call. "It's a myth propagated by NGOs who think they know what they are talking about, but [who] don't." When I reel off a list of adverts that are clearly aimed at children, she concedes that "there is always going to be a rogue trader . [and] they should be slammed down on." But generally, she says, adverts are aimed at parents.

Back at the conference on marketing to children, everyone seems well aware that this is a taboo topic: when some delegates found out that I was reporting on the conference for the Guardian (not difficult, as I was wearing a badge saying as much, introduced myself to everyone I spoke to as a journalist and had arranged my press ticket via the organisers), attempts were made to discourage me from writing about the day. "This is a sensitive topic and your presence is making people feel uncomfortable," I was told at the lunch break. They then asked me to give a 10-minute presentation to the room on my personal views on marketing to children - "it's only fair that we know where you stand," I was told. I refused, pointing out that I was there as a reporter, not a commentator.

Marketing to children using traditional media is more difficult in the UK than almost any other country in the world, after the media regulator Ofcom tightened regulations on advertising to children earlier this year. As of April 1, TV adverts for any foods that are high in fat, salt or sugar are banned for children (including those of pre-school age) "in or around programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children aged 4-9". And from January 1 next year, the ban will be extended to programmes aimed at all under- 16s. The ban applies to all channels, apart from the UK's 17 children's channels, which have until January 2009 to comply fully.

The law changes were top of the agenda at the conference, with delegates sympathising with each other on the difficulties they faced trying to find what organisers called "creative ways of working within the legislation": one woman complained that the famous cartoon character that had been used to advertise her company's sugary snack had been banned as a result of the regulation changes - "but only on TV. We can still use him on the packaging, which seems ludicrous."

And she wasn't the only one who thought the government had gone too far. In a panel discussion entitled "Dealing with the repercussions of the Ofcom legislation to ensure that you stay on the right side of lobbyists and the law", representatives from the advertising and food manufacturing industries complained about the government's stance on marketing to children. They also worried that things would only get worse under Gordon Brown.

"There will be an increasing pressure for banning, restricting and diminishing," said Baroness Peta Buscombe, a Tory peer who is chief executive of the Advertising Association, which represents the marketing and advertising industries. "We have to show the prime minister that we are really interested in the welfare of children because we will be in the spotlight in the coming months and years. We must not be surprised if things do not work out as we might have liked."

Yet many parents and pressure groups are campaigning for even tighter regulation. A particular worry is how marketers are using the internet and mobile phone technology to target children, exploiting their credulity, loyalty and lack of experience. This is more relevant than ever now that some 67% of children aged five to 16 have mobile phones and 25% of children have access to the internet in their bedrooms, according to the 2007 Childwise survey.

In response to G2's findings, the Department of Health said it had already expressed its concern to food and drink manufacturers and advertisers about these practices and was "monitoring closely the change in the nature and balance of food advertising".

MPs have also expressed concern. Nigel Evans, a member of the select committee for culture, media and sport, which monitors new media and the advertising industry, says that advertisers need to practise what they preach, both on and offline. "To me, it's like a chip shop owner saying he is not going to sell chips outside the school gates and then sneaking round the back to sell them," he says.

Labour MP Helen Goodman, meanwhile, recently launched the Commercialisation of Childhood Charter, which calls for a ban on all advertising to children under seven, in both broadcast and non-broadcast media, including instore marketing to children by way of displays, shop layouts and packaging. The charter is the product of a long-running campaign spearheaded by the left-wing pressure group Compass in association with a variety of voluntary organisations ranging from Play England to the Mothers' Union.

Although the Advertising Standards Agency's CAP code of conduct was recently extended to include online marketing to children, this remit only stretches as far as paid-for banner and pop-up adverts, and sales promotions. A rather obvious loophole remains that allows brands to fill their sites with cartoons and games that target children because such content is considered editorial, and not advertising.

Which is how Haribo, the German-owned sweets company, can get away with its brightly coloured website (advertised on the back of the packets) called Fun Planet, which is full of child-friendly games advertising its products. Children are invited into the Western Saloon, where they can play at cowboys, shooting flying cola-bottle sweets as they are catapulted towards distant teepees. They can go into a cartoon studio to watch Haribo adverts, and into space, where the astronauts are clutching packets of Haribo Starmix and you can shoot down asteroids.

Another example is the website of the lunchbox favourite Cheestrings, which has a children's quiz asking questions such as, "To keep teeth healthy, what is the best food to eat at the end of the meal? An apple or a Cheestring?" (The answer is Cheestring.)

Research shows it is worth a brand investing in such websites. A recent study carried out by Intuitive Media for New Media Age magazine interviewed more than 2,800 primary school children and found that 43% of them said they would buy or eat more of a food brand because they have seen it online or played a game about it. What is more, over 20% of them go online to find out about their favourite foods and snacks.

Other brands are using social networking sites and instant messaging chat programs to work "creatively" with the law. Bebo, the social networking site popular with children, is a particularly attractive outlet for brands. Currently Skittles is running a campaign via the site, as is A World of My Own (AWOMO, a new games platform for PCs that is due to launch later in the year). In the past, brands such as Pepsi and Vera Wang perfume have used Bebo to hawk their wares.

Bebo spokeswoman Sarah Gavin defends the site's partnerships with youth-oriented brands, saying it regularly turns down "inappropriate" advertising offers from gambling and alcohol companies. "We wouldn't do anything that would be detrimental to Bebo or our users," she says, adding that Bebo followed Ofcom and ASA guidelines and was working closely with the Home Office's internet task force for child protection, which aims to make the UK the safest place in the world for children to use the internet.

Habbo Hotel, a virtual world whose users in the UK are mainly aged between 12 and 16, is another favourite with brands, which, for a tidy fee, are able to set up their own "hang-outs" for children to visit. Currently, the CD compilation Now 67 has a room for kids to visit and in the past brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola and PlayStation have advertised there.

Instant messaging systems such as Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) are also targeted by brands. The Transformers film is currently being heavily promoted using the program, and last year Sony Ericsson ran a two-month campaign to promote one of its Walkman phones, the W810i. Users could download a virtual "buddy" on to their contact lists, which could provide them with information on all the latest gigs, club nights and shows in their area - while plugging the new phone.

No wonder one session at the marketing conference was devoted to singing the praises of internet and mobile marketing. Alison Ruane, head of consumer and retail marketing at HarperCollins Children's Books, explained how the publisher was using social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace to market books. She quoted figures from Q Research that showed that a third of all UK teens had profiles on at least four social networking sites, and another study that reported that 75% of teenagers would happily receive adverts on their mobile phone in exchange for free credit.

Delegates jotted down these statistics happily, but there was one part of Ruane's presentation that created a quiet hiss of disapproval around the room. This related to an online campaign HarperCollins had recently run to promote the Georgia Nicolson books, aimed at 10- to 15-year-old girls. The company ran a competition on the "Fabbity-fab Confessions of Georgia Nicolson" website in which it challenged young readers to sign up as many friends as possible to the site. The winner won a Gucci handbag. "What an unbelievably inappropriate prize for a teenager," whispered one delegate from a marketing agency.

But it is not just on the internet that brands are targeting children. They are in schools too. This is nothing new. In the US, Channel One Network, a TV station that delivers adverts interspersed with teen-orientated new bulletins, has been beamed into American classrooms since 1990. And in Scotland, the drinks manufacturer AG Barr caused controversy by sponsoring school canteens in the late 1990s. As well as changing the menu to ape the "meal deal" formula used by fast food joints, at high schools such as Eastwood High on the outskirts of Glasgow, the company painted parts of the floor blue and orange and staff wore blue and orange caps to match the branding of its Irn-Bru drink.

Schools marketing has become a lot more subtle of late, however. One particularly interesting session at the conference was delivered by Mark Fawcett, chief executive of the National Schools Partnership, an agency he set up in 2003 to help brands get into classrooms. Fawcett began his 40 minutes by outlining the potential of the schools market: 10 million students, 13 million parents and one million teachers ripe to receive marketing messages. He then singled out a selection of school partnership deals he thought had worked particularly well. There was the deal the audio company Pioneer struck recently with 1,100 schools to promote its range of DJing equipment. The company joined forces with the former Radio 1 DJ Spoony for a campaign called Make Me A DJ, which provided schools with mixing software to encourage pupils to create mixes of their favourite tracks, which they then entered in a competition. The scheme was targeted at music teachers and designed to fit in with Key Stage 3 and 4 lessons as well as GCSE music.

Then there was the campaign by the bottled water company Volvic, which bought itself a place as a lead partner in the Fit for Life guides for schools with a mission to promote overall health and fitness among Key Stage 1-4 pupils. The company sponsored "hydration booklets", which emphasised the importance of drinking enough water for better learning and health.

Fawcett said that it was important for brands to be completely honest with schools about their intentions: "Don't pretend it's for something else," he said. He also urged companies not to forget to reap the PR benefits of any partnerships they enter in to.

He stressed that UK schools were far from saturated with brands. "If you are in a British school, you don't see brands all around you and you shouldn't," he said. "There is an upper limit, but we are nowhere near it."

But the message from the UK's largest teaching union is quite different. At its annual conference last Easter, the National Union of Teachers urged the government to ban all advertising and marketing activities on school premises. There are currently no laws governing branding in the UK's 32,000 schools. "Teachers should be free," it said, "to educate children on the benefits of following a healthy lifestyle without feeling that their teaching needs to be influ-enced by educational materials produced by the advertising and marketing industry."

Yet Palomba, of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, says that firms generally enter into school partnerships with a will to do good. "They should be applauded for it," she says. "I don't understand it when people say brands shouldn't support school sports days, for example. If they didn't, there might not be a sports day because the school couldn't afford it. Of course there is frequently self-interest on the part of the brand, but I don't see what's wrong with that."

Others, however, can't see what's right with it - or with the way advertisers' are embracing new technology. Whatever the marketers say, many adverts are "clearly" aimed at kids, says Richard Watts, of the Children's Food Campaign. "Industry likes to claim that it is advertising responsibly, but the truth is that it is just moving away from TV and on to the internet and text messages . and stopping parents being able to monitor what children can see."


The Hollywood studio Paramount has done a six-figure deal with Microsoft to plug the new Transformers film across Microsoft's digital network. Users of Windows Live Messenger Video Agent, a video talk program, are invited to add "Transformers Agent" to their contacts list. They can then chat to the "agent" and download trailers for the film, which they then share with friends. MSN's 22 million monthly users are also encouraged to customise their MSN homepages with a choice of four different Transformers backgrounds based on characters from the film. Adverts for the film are also running within certain Xbox 360 and PC games. Asked about the ethics of such a tie-in, Microsoft says: "As a responsible media owner we have always taken our duty of care to younger audiences seriously and, for example, we were the first network to close its chatrooms . We have targeting technology in place based on our Passport data - the information [that is] supplied when users sign up to Windows Live Messenger - which allows us to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from seeing adverts deemed to be inappropriate."

Many brands have created profiles on social networking sites, but Skittles' assault on Bebo (popular with children and younger teenagers) is the biggest. For a six-figure sum, Skittles has been allowed to create a Bebo profile, on which it invites users to create their own Skittles advert "that you can show off to all your friends on Bebo. Get creative and show us what Skittles mean to you." The winner's advert will be shown on TV and more than 1,000 entries had been received by the middle of last week. As of Sunday, Skittles UK had attracted 135 "friends" and many more had downloaded "skins" to "Skittle-ise" their own profiles. Bebo's Dominic Tillson explains the attraction for a brand. "They get thousands of brand advocates who are essentially promoting Skittles to their friends." He says it was totally ethical: "This is not push marketing. Users choose for themselves whether to take part," he says.

Polly Pocket

The toy's website ( is designed to look like Polly Pocket's living room and encourages children to sign up and visit regularly to accumulate points and win prizes - such as a special virtual disco dance from one of Polly's friends. You get more points by inputting the codes from Polly Pocket toys. There are games to play, adverts to watch and a regularly updated news section, which informs children of the latest "fabulicious" toys. One recent dispatch read: "Polly has a brand-new range of toys available in store now! Lots of new themes to choose from Dance N Groove, Quik Click Drive Thru, Splashin Fashions and more! Click on the Toys section on Polly's home page to find out more or even go through to the Movies section to see them brought to life in Polly's new TV ads." When signing up, children have to give a parent's email address, and an email informs the parent that their child has joined the site. There is, of course, no way of ensuring that children input the correct address.

Irn-Bru has long been controversial for its youth marketing tactics, and was widely criticised for sponsoring school canteens in Scotland in the 90s and last year for branding the adventure playground at the Falkirk Wheel tourist attraction. These days, its website ( invites visitors to play Gasping Grannies, in which you have to quench the insatiable thirst of an Irn-Bru-addicted old lady. There is a competition to win a month's supply of the drink, which rewards the person who proves their love for Irn-Bru most compellingly, and there are downloadable stickers and screen savers.

On the Starburst official website (, under the section "games and stuff", children are invited to play a Space Invaders-type game called Chewblaster, where they have to dodge huge Starbursts as they fall from the sky. There is also a jewellery section, which gives instructions on how to turn Starburst wrappers into bracelets downloadable Starburst screensavers and internet messaging icons and a text messaging game advertising the Sour flavours, which invites children to text a "sour" message to their friends' mobiles. "I can smell you from here", "Check your fly" and "Know who likes you? Neither do I" are three SMS options, which are sent to the recipient with a plug for Starburst at the bottom. The brand was singled out for rebuke in last year's Which? report on marketing to children, Child Catchers, for its now-defunct gossip website,, which was advertised regularly in teen magazines and featured pages of "mouthwatering" gossip and games - and plenty of Starburst plugs.

The latest instalment of the never-ending compilation CD series is being advertised on virtual world Habbo Hotel ( The record company EMI/Virgin has paid for a special Now 67 room within Habbo called the Now 67 Summer Beach Cafe. Users, known as Habbos, can hang out in the room, place their orders for their favourite tracks, such as Rihanna's Umbrella, chat over an orange juice and dance at the disco. Habbos can stream tracks from the album into their own rooms and join in music quizzes, album launch parties and live music debates.

· The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Friday August 10 2007. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising was misnamed as the Institute of Practitioners in Marketing in the article above. This has been corrected.

Calorie labels will be placed on millions of takeaway menus

Deliveroo said the changes would help consumers to choose healthier options Credit: Telegraph

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C alorie labels will be placed on millions of take-away menus in a bid to push consumers into healthier habits.

Junk-food giants and chain restaurants will display the information on Deliveroo's online delivery platform under the plans.

Burger King, KFC and Jamie's Italian are among the brands which have signed up to the changes, which will start being introduced in weeks.

One restaurant behind the move said the labels would show their takeaways “were healthy enough to eat daily”.

But critics said the actions by large chains were attempt to “nobble the competition” - warning that smaller independent restaurants with changing menus would face burdensome costs if such measures become compulsory.

From next month, 500 restaurants offering takeaways via Deliveroo will start providing the information at the point of order. And all 17,000 restaurants which use the portal are being urged to follow suite.

It follows pledges from ministers that calorie labels on restaurant meals and takeaways will become compulsory under the childhood obesity strategy.

Ministers have yet to decide whether small businesses - such as independent restaurants, pop-up eateries and cafes - will be exempted from the plans, amid bitter divisions in the Cabinet.

Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury, has raised significant concerns about the plans, raising fears the costs will prove prohibitive to small businesses with ever-changing menus.

M s Truss has said the plans could result in job losses and higher food costs for consumers, but Downing Street insists they will go ahead.

Those plans, revealed by The Daily Telegraph, have met a major backlash from food and drinks manufacturers, and triggered accusations of "nanny state" measures.

The introduction of calorie information on menus was proposed last summer in the Government’s updated childhood obesity strategy. However details of how it will work - including a timescale for the compulsory measures - have yet to be agreed.

Deliveroo said it intends introduce the changes voluntarily, in response to public demand, and a commitment to making healthy eating more accessible. However, the firm is also urging ministers to exempt small firms from compulsory labelling.

It has signed up 500 restaurants from six major restaurant brands - Pho, Yo Sushi and Mexican chain Barburrito, Burger King, KFC and Jamie’s Italian - who will start publishing calorie counts on the delivery portal from next month. And it will write to all UK brands using the platform - encompassing 17,000 restaurants - urging them to sign up for the measures.

The takeaway service is also going to introduce a new menu, picking out dishes which meet specific criteria - such as low in fat, salt and sugar - with meals flagged as “nutritionist recommended” if they pass muster.

T he company said it aimed to “dispel the myth” that takeaways could not be healthy.

It follows polling of more than 2,000 adults which found 54 per cent wanted more information about the calorie content of foods ordered for delivery.

Libby Andrews, marketing director at Pho said: “So much of our menu is healthy enough to eat daily, and we’re excited to share this information with our customers.”

“We hope it will make Pho an even more popular option for a healthy night in.”

However, she said the restaurant had no plans to introduce calories on their menus in restaurants.

Jamie’s Italian intends to put calorie labels on its restaurant menus next month, as well as posting them on the Deliveroo portal, while Yo Sushi, Burger King and KFC already display calories in restaurants.

Victoria Robertson, head of food innovation at fast-food chain KFC, said: “It’s really important to us that we give our fans all the right information they need to make informed choices, so we’re very happy to work with Deliveroo to display clear, understandable calorie information on the app.”

Will Shu, founder and chief executive officer of Deliveroo, said: “Deliveroo’s outlook is simple: the way to eat healthy is by having more information and more selection.”

C hris Snowden, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, said compulsory calorie labels could prove devastating for small establishments.

He said: “Calorie labelling is a nice idea in principle but it would be disastrous for pubs, restaurants and cafes in practice.

“Large chains with fixed menus will have no problem complying, but it will be hugely burdensome for smaller establishments. Most pubs, restaurants and cafes change their menus regularly and do not have fixed serving sizes. If this legislation comes in, it could spell the end of the dish of the day. By encouraging the government to impose calorie labelling on the entire out-of-home sector, the large chains are effectively trying to nobble the competition.”

Caroline Cerny, Obesity Health Alliance Lead, said compulsory measure were needed to tackle the UK’s worrying obesity rates, which are the highest in Western Europe.

Two thirds of adults are overweight or obese, as are one in three children leaving primary school.

She said: “This cannot be a piecemeal, voluntary approach – calorie labelling should be mandatory for all restaurants, cafes and take-aways, with no exemptions, to create a level playing field and ensure people are able to make informed choices about the food they eat, wherever they choose to eat.”

T am Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: “For years this sector of the food industry has got away with delivering little more than processed junk and the customers are now calling time. They want to know more about what's coming to them and adding calorie labels is a good start. The cynic will argue that Deliveroo it is acting before government makes calorie labelling mandatory but that's immaterial.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This shows industry is making positive changes in response to customers demanding better information about the food they eat. “Last year we announced our intention to introduce mandatory calorie labelling on menus to give all families the information they need to make healthier choices when on the go. We’re committed to involving businesses in this, which is why our consultation invited their views on how to make sure the process works for them.”

The Influence of Food Advertising on Children's Food Preferences and Eating Behavior

Of critical importance is whether youth-targeted marketing and advertising of food products has any impact on children's food behaviors or body weight. Almost all of the studies on the impact of food advertising on children's food preferences and behaviors were conducted in the mid 1970s and the 1980s. These studies focused on the relationship between children's exposure to television advertising and their food preferences, food choices, food intake or purchase requests. A recent review [37] on the effects of television food advertising on preschool and school-age children's food behavior concluded that: 1) studies of food preferences using experimental designs have consistently shown that children exposed to advertising will choose advertised food products at significantly higher rates than children who were not exposed 2) findings from food purchase request studies based on surveys, diaries, experimental trials, and direct observation of mother-child pairs shopping have consistently shown that children's exposure to food television advertising increases the number of attempts children make to influence food purchases their parents buy 3) purchase requests for specific brands or categories of food products also reflect product advertising frequencies and 4) fewer studies have been conducted on food advertising effects on actual food intake, in part due to difficulty in controlling children's exposure to advertising or to foods outside experimental settings. [37]

A variety of study designs have been used to study the effects of food advertising on children's food behavior and food preferences but most are field experiments or survey research/ cross-sectional correlational studies. A strength of correlational studies is that external validity can be high given the broad range of potential influences that can be studied. A major weakness is that causality cannot be established. Longitudinal studies that prospectively link exposure to food advertising to children's food intake or behavior have not been done. There also have not been any meta-analyses review studies conducted in which effect-size estimates from multiple studies are combined. Further, the studies to date have focused almost exclusively on television food advertising. However, considering all the evidence to date, the weight of the scientific studies suggests that television food advertising is associated with more favorable attitudes, preferences and behaviors towards the advertised product. [37, 66] The research evidence is strong showing that preschoolers and grade school children's food preferences and food purchase requests for high sugar and high fat foods are influenced by television exposure to food advertising. [30, 37, 66–68] Only a few studies have been done on food advertising and the effects on children's actual food intake. [69, 70] Gorn and Goldberg [69] conducted a novel, well-designed experimental field study which randomly assigned children ages 5–8 years old attending a summer camp to one of four conditions to examine television exposure of snack food commercials to actual food consumption. Daily for two weeks, children watched 30 minutes of a television cartoon with about 5 minutes of advertising embedded. The four experimental conditions differed in the type of food advertising included with the cartoon: ads for candy and Kool-Aid ads for fruit and fruit juice control (no ads) and public service ad announcements for healthy foods. Each day after the television exposure, the children were given a selection of fruits, juices, candy, or Kool-Aid to choose to eat. Children in the candy/Kool-Aid commercials condition selected the most candy/Kool-Aid and the least fruit and juice. For example, those in the candy commercial condition selected significantly less fruit (25%) than those in the fruit commercial condition (45%).

A new WHO/FAO consultation report on diet and prevention of chronic diseases examined the strength of evidence linking dietary and lifestyle factors to the risk of developing obesity. [71] Diet and lifestyle factors were categorized based on the strength of scientific evidence according to four levels of evidence: convincing, probable, possible and insufficient. The report concluded that while the evidence that the heavy marketing of fast food outlets and energy-dense, micronutrient-poor food and beverages to children causes obesity is equivocal, sufficient indirect evidence exists to place this practice in the "probable" category for increasing risk of obesity. [71] For comparative purposes, other factors placed in the "probable" category were: high intake of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and fruit juices and adverse socioeconomic conditions (in developed countries, especially for women). Clearly, additional research is needed to examine possible links between exposure to food ads, food consumption patterns and obesity.

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How to 'Sell' Healthy Food to Kids

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

Produced by Tyee Solutions Society (TSS). Other publications wishing to publish this story or other TSS-produced articles, please see this page for contacts and information.

Competing with packaging and television advertising calls on parents to use some marketing techniques of their own, argues one BC author. Photo by Katie Hyslop.
Also in this series:

Grow, Eat, Learn: School from the Plate Up

[Editor's note: In this ongoing series, Grow, Eat, Learn: School from the Plate Up, Tyee Solutions Society reporter Katie Hyslop visits farms, schools, full-length mirrors and our own kitchen cupboards to examine how we lost our way when it comes to feeding our kids, and how we can get back on the path to wholesome, healthy eating. Find the series so far here.]

While writer, academic, and frazzled mom of picky eaters Karen Le Billon was marvelling at France's unparalleled school lunch program during the year her family lived in the country's north, she was also trying to get both of her daughters, then five and two, to eat foods at home beyond their diet of Cheerios, crackers, buttered toast and pasta.

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The French, she learned, had a solution for that problem, too. Meet "taste training." It's something every French parent knows and practices, Le Billon found. And within a year of implementing it, she had her kids scarfing down "a huge range of foods, including beet salad, creamed spinach, broccoli and mussels," she writes in her most recent book, Getting to Yum: 7 Secrets For Raising Eager Eaters.

Where parents rely on Kraft Dinner and chicken nuggets to satiate finicky youngsters, Getting to Yum promises to have those kids eating foods as adult-sounding as mild Thai squash curry, salmon spinach lasagna and guacamole -- with recipes for all three and more conveniently located in the second half of the book.

"We could be teaching kids how to eat just like we teach them how to read, but we don't," Le Billon, now back in Vancouver, said. Yet she predicts taste training will soon be as widespread as potty and sleep training.

"Once parents find out how easy it is, they're amazed."

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Le Billon's book backs up that claim with the experience of dozens of families who tested its methods. But teaching kids that healthy food is also tasty is only half the battle. The other half must be fought against the ever-present flood of junk food advertising directed at children.

Le Billon is reluctant to divide the choices into "good food versus bad food." Yet it's impossible to deny the sway the food industry has over kids' appetites since you can't turn on a TV, open a browser, or listen to the radio without being pelted with ads about delicious yet unwholesome foods.

And while adults hopefully have enough media savvy to know those pop stars in soda ads couldn't stay that slim if they really consumed the product they're hawking, kids typically aren't so critical. Tell a pre-schooler a sugar-packed cereal is "magically delicious," and they not only believe it, they beg their parents to buy it.

As Bill Jeffrey, national director for the Canadian office of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, sees it, advertising tricks kids into becoming "agitators" in the family for the foods they see advertised during Saturday morning cartoons or on kid-centred websites.

The centre would like to see the rest of Canada take a page out of Quebec's playbook. Since 1980, that province has banned fast food and toy advertising during TV shows whose audiences are 15 per cent or more under the age of 13. The Centre would like to make it tougher, extending the ban to age 16 or even 18, with stricter pro-active enforcement by government, instead of relying on the public to complain before an advertiser is investigated.

Ads turn kids into 'agitators'

"The stimulus for [Quebec's ban] was this recognition that children are impressionable and it's easy to trick them, and that food and toy companies were taking advantage of that by targeting commercial advertisements at children and trying to manipulate [them]," Jeffrey explained.

The centre links junk-food advertising to children to an increase in juvenile obesity and Type 2 diabetes. He's also incensed by a tactic he thinks is just plain wrong: "As a parent, it's very galling that companies seek out ways to get access to children's minds to persuade them to buy their products."

Detailing all seven courses of taste training secrets took Le Billon an entire book. Here, we'll stick to a taster's menu:

Getting to Yum expands on each of these, suggesting games to play with kids to ease them into trying and eventually loving new foods. It may sound like a lot of work, but Le Billon says each game can be "played" in five minutes, while recipes are designed to keep cooking time down to 10-15 minutes.

"I work full-time and have no help in the home," said the writer, who also works as a geography professor at the University of British Columbia.

"But if you taste train, it takes less time overall [than not]. And because you adopt the motto of "one family, one meal," you're not making multiple meals for your kids, which is what's so exhausting and time consuming."

Become food marketing mavens

Although she emphasizes it's never too late to transform a picky eater -- yes, even teenagers -- Le Billon admits that taste training is easier when kids are toddlers.

"It is a universal phenomenon that kids about the age of two go through a phase where they're wanting to control what they put in their mouths and they get a little selective," Le Billon said.

The technical term for it is neophobia, fear of anything new. Many parents know it better as the fearsome "terrible twos."

But neophobia is exacerbated by North America's pervasive fast food culture. Add on parents' busy schedules and an exasperating toddler who turns down every food except chicken nuggets, and it's easy to surrender to that demand, no matter how unhealthy.

Ironically, in most (non-Quebecois) Canadian kids' lives, food advertising has plenty of time to influence habits. And the more time little minds spend in front of screens, the more the messages of high fat, high sugar, high salt food producers worm their way into kids' brains.

It's hard to know the impact of advertising on Canadian children. There isn't data on what kinds of ads air during kids and family programming in this country. But a 2013 study from the United States found that children and teenagers were exposed to three to five fast food ads a day on TV ads on social media had increased "exponentially" in the three years since a previous study.

How can parents compete with that? Le Billon recommends fighting fire with fire: engaging in some food marketing of their own.

Researchers at Cornell University in New York state found that kids ate twice as many veggies when they were called names like, "X-ray Vision Carrots," "Power Punch Broccoli," and "Tiny Tasty Tree Tops." Le Billon advises parents to come up with their own names for food they think will appeal to their kids. Your child won't stop singing "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen? Try offering them Olaf Rice Pilaf or some mashed Anna Bananas.

Not so good at the name game? Just showing your kids how much you genuinely love a food is often enough to convince them to at least try it. A sneakier method is to serve yourself the food, but don't give any to your child. Don't make a big deal out of it, and let them ask, "Hey, what about me?" to foods they previously shoved away.

Taste training doesn't turn the tables overnight. Studies suggest kids will need to try a new food between 8 and 15 times to acquire a taste, Le Billon notes.

"I call it the delicious dozen rule," she said. "You have to understand that most kids aren't going to like something right away, and they have to taste it multiple times."

Another bit of marketing can spin a "neophobic" first (or second) experience to keep taste training on track. "Don't say 'you don't like that' [to kids]," she cautions in her book. "Say, 'You're learning to like that. You just haven't tasted it enough times yet.'"

Fast food advertising nation

But until Canada reaches the point that France has, where just about every child is taste-trained in toddlerhood, all that fast food advertising continues to lead kids into taste temptation.

Along with an absence of research, advertising to children in Canada is subject to no national rules -- just a voluntary initiative launched and run by advertisers and the food industry themselves. Companies joining the initiative pledge either to aim only ads for healthy products at children, or not to advertise to kids 12 and under at all.

There's evidence meanwhile that Quebec's all-out ad ban is having an impact -- on both eating habits and food company sales. One study by then-UBC assistant business prof Tirtha Dhar and co-author Kathy Baylis from the University of Illinois, compared the fast food spending habits of Quebec francophone families and anglophone families in Ontario, where there is no ban. Fast food spending decreased by 13 per cent in Quebec from 1984 to 1992, they found, the equivalent of US$88 million in 2010.

And they noticed something else, in Statistics Canada data from 2005: Quebec, despite having some of the most sedentary kids in the country, also has one of the lowest childhood obesity rates.

The province's ban, the first of its kind in the world, has influenced similar bans in the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden. An attempt by Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to promote the idea there however, although cheered by health organizations, met jeers from the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA), which represents advertisers.

In a report, the Ontario Ministry recommended a ban on advertising online, on TV, in print, on billboards and in-store displays for high calorie, low nutrition food aimed at kids 12 and under.

In a response, the CMA levelled a number of arguments against a ban: child obesity levels are higher in Quebec than Alberta, which doesn't have an advertising ban (although the difference is marginal) anglophone kids see four times more advertising than francophones, because it's easier to regulate French media within Quebec than it is English media entering the rest of Canada from U.S. outlets and it's hard to know what "child-centred media" is, when many kids are exposed to media that adults also consume, like Hockey Night in Canada, for example.

The association defended its existing self-regulation, but offered to make its voluntary child advertising standards part of its members' code of ethics -- if agreement could be reached on definitions of "healthy" and "unhealthy" food.

Centre for Science in the Public Interest's Jeffrey says even if you agree there are shortcomings in Quebec's legislation banning ads to kids, it should not cause the rest of Canada to abandon the idea altogether. He dismisses the objection that media from the U.S. would weaken a nationwide ban. "While you may be able to watch some programs on American networks," he notes, "a lot of the American programming that you see actually originates from CTV and Global."

In fact, Canada can and does control other advertising that appears on American channels in this country -- as evident to anyone who's tried (and failed) to watch the infamous American Super Bowl commercials on a TV in Canada -- if there were political will to pass and enforce the ban.

'Huge implications' for economy: Julian

New Democratic Party MP Peter Julian has the will, if not yet the votes in Parliament. The New Westminster-Burnaby MP introduced a private members bill to ban advertising to Canadian children under 13 in 2012 and again in October 2013 after a proroguing of Parliament had killed the first version. Bill C-430 has yet to make it past first reading, but Julian is determined to see it become law.

"It's fair to say there has been some minor pushback [so far]," Julian said. "But it hasn't yet come up for debate, and when it does there'll be even more pushback from lobbyists, there's no doubt."

Julian said he expects Liberal and Conservative government members to side with the lobbyists. "But I think as we gradually get more organizations supportive and on board, that we have the ability to push back on the lobbyists, because ultimately I think the vast majority of Canadians would take children's interests over the interest of lobbyists."

Julian had help from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest in crafting Bill C-430's wording. But even though his bill would also apply to toy, cosmetic and drug advertising and promotion directed at children under 13, he is most concerned about the health consequences of marketing high calorie, low-nutrient food to children.

Those consequences in turn have economic ramifications for the country, Julian argues. At least one study suggests that obese individuals cost the health system 30 per cent more over their lifetimes than slimmer counterparts, for the treatment of chronic diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

"There's huge implications for the healthcare system," Julian said. "If we can cut obesity and overweight rates in half by eliminating that ability to target children, then there are real benefits that are undeniable."

With a federal election just one year away, the moment may also be right for the public to show its support for a ban on advertising to kids. Parties have already started the nomination and campaigning process, giving voters an opportunity to question local candidates on where they stand, and to express their own views.

In the meantime, Le Billon suggests that parents can at least partly shelter younger kids from fast food advertising themselves.

"Simply setting limits on screen time has been shown to be beneficial for kids' health," she writes in Getting to Yum. "This is, in part, because exposure to TV food advertising (with its 'snacking = enjoyment' messages) increases calories consumed during and immediately afterwards -- whether or not kids are actually hungry."

Even if all children don't become "taste trained" like Le Billon predicts, a small change like banning advertising to those under 13 could help keep them off junk food -- and their parents backs -- during their most formative years.

Wednesday: The conclusion to this series, ideas with your fries? On giving kids credit for food smarts.

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

On the evening of April 8, 1999, a long line of Town Cars and taxis pulled up to the Minneapolis headquarters of Pillsbury and discharged 11 men who controlled America’s largest food companies. Nestlé was in attendance, as were Kraft and Nabisco, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Mars. Rivals any other day, the C.E.O.’s and company presidents had come together for a rare, private meeting. On the agenda was one item: the emerging obesity epidemic and how to deal with it. While the atmosphere was cordial, the men assembled were hardly friends. Their stature was defined by their skill in fighting one another for what they called “stomach share” — the amount of digestive space that any one company’s brand can grab from the competition.

James Behnke, a 55-year-old executive at Pillsbury, greeted the men as they arrived. He was anxious but also hopeful about the plan that he and a few other food-company executives had devised to engage the C.E.O.’s on America’s growing weight problem. “We were very concerned, and rightfully so, that obesity was becoming a major issue,” Behnke recalled. “People were starting to talk about sugar taxes, and there was a lot of pressure on food companies.” Getting the company chiefs in the same room to talk about anything, much less a sensitive issue like this, was a tricky business, so Behnke and his fellow organizers had scripted the meeting carefully, honing the message to its barest essentials. “C.E.O.’s in the food industry are typically not technical guys, and they’re uncomfortable going to meetings where technical people talk in technical terms about technical things,” Behnke said. “They don’t want to be embarrassed. They don’t want to make commitments. They want to maintain their aloofness and autonomy.”

A chemist by training with a doctoral degree in food science, Behnke became Pillsbury’s chief technical officer in 1979 and was instrumental in creating a long line of hit products, including microwaveable popcorn. He deeply admired Pillsbury but in recent years had grown troubled by pictures of obese children suffering from diabetes and the earliest signs of hypertension and heart disease. In the months leading up to the C.E.O. meeting, he was engaged in conversation with a group of food-science experts who were painting an increasingly grim picture of the public’s ability to cope with the industry’s formulations — from the body’s fragile controls on overeating to the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still. It was time, he and a handful of others felt, to warn the C.E.O.’s that their companies may have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns.

The discussion took place in Pillsbury’s auditorium. The first speaker was a vice president of Kraft named Michael Mudd. “I very much appreciate this opportunity to talk to you about childhood obesity and the growing challenge it presents for us all,” Mudd began. “Let me say right at the start, this is not an easy subject. There are no easy answers — for what the public health community must do to bring this problem under control or for what the industry should do as others seek to hold it accountable for what has happened. But this much is clear: For those of us who’ve looked hard at this issue, whether they’re public health professionals or staff specialists in your own companies, we feel sure that the one thing we shouldn’t do is nothing.”

As he spoke, Mudd clicked through a deck of slides — 114 in all — projected on a large screen behind him. The figures were staggering. More than half of American adults were now considered overweight, with nearly one-quarter of the adult population — 40 million people — clinically defined as obese. Among children, the rates had more than doubled since 1980, and the number of kids considered obese had shot past 12 million. (This was still only 1999 the nation’s obesity rates would climb much higher.) Food manufacturers were now being blamed for the problem from all sides — academia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. The secretary of agriculture, over whom the industry had long held sway, had recently called obesity a “national epidemic.”

Mudd then did the unthinkable. He drew a connection to the last thing in the world the C.E.O.’s wanted linked to their products: cigarettes. First came a quote from a Yale University professor of psychology and public health, Kelly Brownell, who was an especially vocal proponent of the view that the processed-food industry should be seen as a public health menace: “As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”

“If anyone in the food industry ever doubted there was a slippery slope out there,” Mudd said, “I imagine they are beginning to experience a distinct sliding sensation right about now.”

Mudd then presented the plan he and others had devised to address the obesity problem. Merely getting the executives to acknowledge some culpability was an important first step, he knew, so his plan would start off with a small but crucial move: the industry should use the expertise of scientists — its own and others — to gain a deeper understanding of what was driving Americans to overeat. Once this was achieved, the effort could unfold on several fronts. To be sure, there would be no getting around the role that packaged foods and drinks play in overconsumption. They would have to pull back on their use of salt, sugar and fat, perhaps by imposing industrywide limits. But it wasn’t just a matter of these three ingredients the schemes they used to advertise and market their products were critical, too. Mudd proposed creating a “code to guide the nutritional aspects of food marketing, especially to children.”

“We are saying that the industry should make a sincere effort to be part of the solution,” Mudd concluded. “And that by doing so, we can help to defuse the criticism that’s building against us.”

What happened next was not written down. But according to three participants, when Mudd stopped talking, the one C.E.O. whose recent exploits in the grocery store had awed the rest of the industry stood up to speak. His name was Stephen Sanger, and he was also the person — as head of General Mills — who had the most to lose when it came to dealing with obesity. Under his leadership, General Mills had overtaken not just the cereal aisle but other sections of the grocery store. The company’s Yoplait brand had transformed traditional unsweetened breakfast yogurt into a veritable dessert. It now had twice as much sugar per serving as General Mills’ marshmallow cereal Lucky Charms. And yet, because of yogurt’s well-tended image as a wholesome snack, sales of Yoplait were soaring, with annual revenue topping $500 million. Emboldened by the success, the company’s development wing pushed even harder, inventing a Yoplait variation that came in a squeezable tube — perfect for kids. They called it Go-Gurt and rolled it out nationally in the weeks before the C.E.O. meeting. (By year’s end, it would hit $100 million in sales.)

According to the sources I spoke with, Sanger began by reminding the group that consumers were “fickle.” (Sanger declined to be interviewed.) Sometimes they worried about sugar, other times fat. General Mills, he said, acted responsibly to both the public and shareholders by offering products to satisfy dieters and other concerned shoppers, from low sugar to added whole grains. But most often, he said, people bought what they liked, and they liked what tasted good. “Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he reportedly said, taking on the voice of the typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

To react to the critics, Sanger said, would jeopardize the sanctity of the recipes that had made his products so successful. General Mills would not pull back. He would push his people onward, and he urged his peers to do the same. Sanger’s response effectively ended the meeting.

“What can I say?” James Behnke told me years later. “It didn’t work. These guys weren’t as receptive as we thought they would be.” Behnke chose his words deliberately. He wanted to be fair. “Sanger was trying to say, ‘Look, we’re not going to screw around with the company jewels here and change the formulations because a bunch of guys in white coats are worried about obesity.’ ”

The meeting was remarkable, first, for the insider admissions of guilt. But I was also struck by how prescient the organizers of the sit-down had been. Today, one in three adults is considered clinically obese, along with one in five kids, and 24 million Americans are afflicted by type 2 diabetes, often caused by poor diet, with another 79 million people having pre-diabetes. Even gout, a painful form of arthritis once known as “the rich man’s disease” for its associations with gluttony, now afflicts eight million Americans.

The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.

I. ‘In This Field, I’m a Game Changer.’

John Lennon couldn’t find it in England, so he had cases of it shipped from New York to fuel the “Imagine” sessions. The Beach Boys, ZZ Top and Cher all stipulated in their contract riders that it be put in their dressing rooms when they toured. Hillary Clinton asked for it when she traveled as first lady, and ever after her hotel suites were dutifully stocked.

What they all wanted was Dr Pepper, which until 2001 occupied a comfortable third-place spot in the soda aisle behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi. But then a flood of spinoffs from the two soda giants showed up on the shelves — lemons and limes, vanillas and coffees, raspberries and oranges, whites and blues and clears — what in food-industry lingo are known as “line extensions,” and Dr Pepper started to lose its market share.

Responding to this pressure, Cadbury Schweppes created its first spin­off, other than a diet version, in the soda’s 115-year history, a bright red soda with a very un-Dr Pepper name: Red Fusion. “If we are to re-establish Dr Pepper back to its historic growth rates, we have to add more excitement,” the company’s president, Jack Kilduff, said. One particularly promising market, Kilduff pointed out, was the “rapidly growing Hispanic and African-American communities.”

But consumers hated Red Fusion. “Dr Pepper is my all-time favorite drink, so I was curious about the Red Fusion,” a California mother of three wrote on a blog to warn other Peppers away. “It’s disgusting. Gagging. Never again.”

Stung by the rejection, Cadbury Schweppes in 2004 turned to a food-industry legend named Howard Moskowitz. Moskowitz, who studied mathematics and holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Harvard, runs a consulting firm in White Plains, where for more than three decades he has “optimized” a variety of products for Campbell Soup, General Foods, Kraft and PepsiCo. “I’ve optimized soups,” Moskowitz told me. “I’ve optimized pizzas. I’ve optimized salad dressings and pickles. In this field, I’m a game changer.”


In the process of product optimization, food engineers alter a litany of variables with the sole intent of finding the most perfect version (or versions) of a product. Ordinary consumers are paid to spend hours sitting in rooms where they touch, feel, sip, smell, swirl and taste whatever product is in question. Their opinions are dumped into a computer, and the data are sifted and sorted through a statistical method called conjoint analysis, which determines what features will be most attractive to consumers. Moskowitz likes to imagine that his computer is divided into silos, in which each of the attributes is stacked. But it’s not simply a matter of comparing Color 23 with Color 24. In the most complicated projects, Color 23 must be combined with Syrup 11 and Packaging 6, and on and on, in seemingly infinite combinations. Even for jobs in which the only concern is taste and the variables are limited to the ingredients, endless charts and graphs will come spewing out of Moskowitz’s computer. “The mathematical model maps out the ingredients to the sensory perceptions these ingredients create,” he told me, “so I can just dial a new product. This is the engineering approach.”

Moskowitz’s work on Prego spaghetti sauce was memorialized in a 2004 presentation by the author Malcolm Gladwell at the TED conference in Monterey, Calif.: “After . . . months and months, he had a mountain of data about how the American people feel about spaghetti sauce. . . . And sure enough, if you sit down and you analyze all this data on spaghetti sauce, you realize that all Americans fall into one of three groups. There are people who like their spaghetti sauce plain. There are people who like their spaghetti sauce spicy. And there are people who like it extra-chunky. And of those three facts, the third one was the most significant, because at the time, in the early 1980s, if you went to a supermarket, you would not find extra-chunky spaghetti sauce. And Prego turned to Howard, and they said, ‘Are you telling me that one-third of Americans crave extra-chunky spaghetti sauce, and yet no one is servicing their needs?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And Prego then went back and completely reformulated their spaghetti sauce and came out with a line of extra-chunky that immediately and completely took over the spaghetti-sauce business in this country. . . . That is Howard’s gift to the American people. . . . He fundamentally changed the way the food industry thinks about making you happy.”

Well, yes and no. One thing Gladwell didn’t mention is that the food industry already knew some things about making people happy — and it started with sugar. Many of the Prego sauces — whether cheesy, chunky or light — have one feature in common: The largest ingredient, after tomatoes, is sugar. A mere half-cup of Prego Traditional, for instance, has the equivalent of more than two teaspoons of sugar, as much as two-plus Oreo cookies. It also delivers one-third of the sodium recommended for a majority of American adults for an entire day. In making these sauces, Campbell supplied the ingredients, including the salt, sugar and, for some versions, fat, while Moskowitz supplied the optimization. “More is not necessarily better,” Moskowitz wrote in his own account of the Prego project. “As the sensory intensity (say, of sweetness) increases, consumers first say that they like the product more, but eventually, with a middle level of sweetness, consumers like the product the most (this is their optimum, or ‘bliss,’ point).”

I first met Moskowitz on a crisp day in the spring of 2010 at the Harvard Club in Midtown Manhattan. As we talked, he made clear that while he has worked on numerous projects aimed at creating more healthful foods and insists the industry could be doing far more to curb obesity, he had no qualms about his own pioneering work on discovering what industry insiders now regularly refer to as “the bliss point” or any of the other systems that helped food companies create the greatest amount of crave. “There’s no moral issue for me,” he said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.”

Moskowitz’s path to mastering the bliss point began in earnest not at Harvard but a few months after graduation, 16 miles from Cambridge, in the town of Natick, where the U.S. Army hired him to work in its research labs. The military has long been in a peculiar bind when it comes to food: how to get soldiers to eat more rations when they are in the field. They know that over time, soldiers would gradually find their meals-ready-to-eat so boring that they would toss them away, half-eaten, and not get all the calories they needed. But what was causing this M.R.E.-fatigue was a mystery. “So I started asking soldiers how frequently they would like to eat this or that, trying to figure out which products they would find boring,” Moskowitz said. The answers he got were inconsistent. “They liked flavorful foods like turkey tetrazzini, but only at first they quickly grew tired of them. On the other hand, mundane foods like white bread would never get them too excited, but they could eat lots and lots of it without feeling they’d had enough.”

This contradiction is known as “sensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

Thirty-two years after he began experimenting with the bliss point, Moskowitz got the call from Cadbury Schweppes asking him to create a good line extension for Dr Pepper. I spent an afternoon in his White Plains offices as he and his vice president for research, Michele Reisner, walked me through the Dr Pepper campaign. Cadbury wanted its new flavor to have cherry and vanilla on top of the basic Dr Pepper taste. Thus, there were three main components to play with. A sweet cherry flavoring, a sweet vanilla flavoring and a sweet syrup known as “Dr Pepper flavoring.”

Finding the bliss point required the preparation of 61 subtly distinct formulas — 31 for the regular version and 30 for diet. The formulas were then subjected to 3,904 tastings organized in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia. The Dr Pepper tasters began working through their samples, resting five minutes between each sip to restore their taste buds. After each sample, they gave numerically ranked answers to a set of questions: How much did they like it overall? How strong is the taste? How do they feel about the taste? How would they describe the quality of this product? How likely would they be to purchase this product?

Moskowitz’s data — compiled in a 135-page report for the soda maker — is tremendously fine-grained, showing how different people and groups of people feel about a strong vanilla taste versus weak, various aspects of aroma and the powerful sensory force that food scientists call “mouth feel.” This is the way a product interacts with the mouth, as defined more specifically by a host of related sensations, from dryness to gumminess to moisture release. These are terms more familiar to sommeliers, but the mouth feel of soda and many other food items, especially those high in fat, is second only to the bliss point in its ability to predict how much craving a product will induce.

In addition to taste, the consumers were also tested on their response to color, which proved to be highly sensitive. “When we increased the level of the Dr Pepper flavoring, it gets darker and liking goes off,” Reisner said. These preferences can also be cross-referenced by age, sex and race.

On Page 83 of the report, a thin blue line represents the amount of Dr Pepper flavoring needed to generate maximum appeal. The line is shaped like an upside-down U, just like the bliss-point curve that Moskowitz studied 30 years earlier in his Army lab. And at the top of the arc, there is not a single sweet spot but instead a sweet range, within which “bliss” was achievable. This meant that Cadbury could edge back on its key ingredient, the sugary Dr Pepper syrup, without falling out of the range and losing the bliss. Instead of using 2 milliliters of the flavoring, for instance, they could use 1.69 milliliters and achieve the same effect. The potential savings is merely a few percentage points, and it won’t mean much to individual consumers who are counting calories or grams of sugar. But for Dr Pepper, it adds up to colossal savings. “That looks like nothing,” Reisner said. “But it’s a lot of money. A lot of money. Millions.”

The soda that emerged from all of Moskowitz’s variations became known as Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, and it proved successful beyond anything Cadbury imagined. In 2008, Cadbury split off its soft-drinks business, which included Snapple and 7-Up. The Dr Pepper Snapple Group has since been valued in excess of $11 billion.

II. ‘Lunchtime Is All Yours’

Sometimes innovations within the food industry happen in the lab, with scientists dialing in specific ingredients to achieve the greatest allure. And sometimes, as in the case of Oscar Mayer’s bologna crisis, the innovation involves putting old products in new packages.

The 1980s were tough times for Oscar Mayer. Red-meat consumption fell more than 10 percent as fat became synonymous with cholesterol, clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes. Anxiety set in at the company’s headquarters in Madison, Wis., where executives worried about their future and the pressure they faced from their new bosses at Philip Morris.

Bob Drane was the company’s vice president for new business strategy and development when Oscar Mayer tapped him to try to find some way to reposition bologna and other troubled meats that were declining in popularity and sales. I met Drane at his home in Madison and went through the records he had kept on the birth of what would become much more than his solution to the company’s meat problem. In 1985, when Drane began working on the project, his orders were to “figure out how to contemporize what we’ve got.”

Drane’s first move was to try to zero in not on what Americans felt about processed meat but on what Americans felt about lunch. He organized focus-group sessions with the people most responsible for buying bologna — mothers — and as they talked, he realized the most pressing issue for them was time. Working moms strove to provide healthful food, of course, but they spoke with real passion and at length about the morning crush, that nightmarish dash to get breakfast on the table and lunch packed and kids out the door. He summed up their remarks for me like this: “It’s awful. I am scrambling around. My kids are asking me for stuff. I’m trying to get myself ready to go to the office. I go to pack these lunches, and I don’t know what I’ve got.” What the moms revealed to him, Drane said, was “a gold mine of disappointments and problems.”

He assembled a team of about 15 people with varied skills, from design to food science to advertising, to create something completely new — a convenient prepackaged lunch that would have as its main building block the company’s sliced bologna and ham. They wanted to add bread, naturally, because who ate bologna without it? But this presented a problem: There was no way bread could stay fresh for the two months their product needed to sit in warehouses or in grocery coolers. Crackers, however, could — so they added a handful of cracker rounds to the package. Using cheese was the next obvious move, given its increased presence in processed foods. But what kind of cheese would work? Natural Cheddar, which they started off with, crumbled and didn’t slice very well, so they moved on to processed varieties, which could bend and be sliced and would last forever, or they could knock another two cents off per unit by using an even lesser product called “cheese food,” which had lower scores than processed cheese in taste tests. The cost dilemma was solved when Oscar Mayer merged with Kraft in 1989 and the company didn’t have to shop for cheese anymore it got all the processed cheese it wanted from its new sister company, and at cost.

Drane’s team moved into a nearby hotel, where they set out to find the right mix of components and container. They gathered around tables where bagfuls of meat, cheese, crackers and all sorts of wrapping material had been dumped, and they let their imaginations run. After snipping and taping their way through a host of failures, the model they fell back on was the American TV dinner — and after some brainstorming about names (Lunch Kits? Go-Packs? Fun Mealz?), Lunchables were born.

The trays flew off the grocery-store shelves. Sales hit a phenomenal $218 million in the first 12 months, more than anyone was prepared for. This only brought Drane his next crisis. The production costs were so high that they were losing money with each tray they produced. So Drane flew to New York, where he met with Philip Morris officials who promised to give him the money he needed to keep it going. “The hard thing is to figure out something that will sell,” he was told. “You’ll figure out how to get the cost right.” Projected to lose $6 million in 1991, the trays instead broke even the next year, they earned $8 million.

With production costs trimmed and profits coming in, the next question was how to expand the franchise, which they did by turning to one of the cardinal rules in processed food: When in doubt, add sugar. “Lunchables With Dessert is a logical extension,” an Oscar Mayer official reported to Philip Morris executives in early 1991. The “target” remained the same as it was for regular Lunchables — “busy mothers” and “working women,” ages 25 to 49 — and the “enhanced taste” would attract shoppers who had grown bored with the current trays. A year later, the dessert Lunchable morphed into the Fun Pack, which would come with a Snickers bar, a package of M&M’s or a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, as well as a sugary drink. The Lunchables team started by using Kool-Aid and cola and then Capri Sun after Philip Morris added that drink to its stable of brands.

Eventually, a line of the trays, appropriately called Maxed Out, was released that had as many as nine grams of saturated fat, or nearly an entire day’s recommended maximum for kids, with up to two-thirds of the max for sodium and 13 teaspoons of sugar.

When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. “One article said something like, ‘If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.’ ”

Well, they did have a good bit of fat, I offered. “You bet,” he said. “Plus cookies.”

The prevailing attitude among the company’s food managers — through the 1990s, at least, before obesity became a more pressing concern — was one of supply and demand. “People could point to these things and say, ‘They’ve got too much sugar, they’ve got too much salt,’ ” Bible said. “Well, that’s what the consumer wants, and we’re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That’s what they want. If we give them less, they’ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you’re sort of trapped.” (Bible would later press Kraft to reconsider its reliance on salt, sugar and fat.)

When it came to Lunchables, they did try to add more healthful ingredients. Back at the start, Drane experimented with fresh carrots but quickly gave up on that, since fresh components didn’t work within the constraints of the processed-food system, which typically required weeks or months of transport and storage before the food arrived at the grocery store. Later, a low-fat version of the trays was developed, using meats and cheese and crackers that were formulated with less fat, but it tasted inferior, sold poorly and was quickly scrapped.

When I met with Kraft officials in 2011 to discuss their products and policies on nutrition, they had dropped the Maxed Out line and were trying to improve the nutritional profile of Lunchables through smaller, incremental changes that were less noticeable to consumers. Across the Lunchables line, they said they had reduced the salt, sugar and fat by about 10 percent, and new versions, featuring mandarin-orange and pineapple slices, were in development. These would be promoted as more healthful versions, with “fresh fruit,” but their list of ingredients — containing upward of 70 items, with sucrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup and fruit concentrate all in the same tray — have been met with intense criticism from outside the industry.

One of the company’s responses to criticism is that kids don’t eat the Lunchables every day — on top of which, when it came to trying to feed them more healthful foods, kids themselves were unreliable. When their parents packed fresh carrots, apples and water, they couldn’t be trusted to eat them. Once in school, they often trashed the healthful stuff in their brown bags to get right to the sweets.

This idea — that kids are in control — would become a key concept in the evolving marketing campaigns for the trays. In what would prove to be their greatest achievement of all, the Lunchables team would delve into adolescent psychology to discover that it wasn’t the food in the trays that excited the kids it was the feeling of power it brought to their lives. As Bob Eckert, then the C.E.O. of Kraft, put it in 1999: “Lunchables aren’t about lunch. It’s about kids being able to put together what they want to eat, anytime, anywhere.”

Kraft’s early Lunchables campaign targeted mothers. They might be too distracted by work to make a lunch, but they loved their kids enough to offer them this prepackaged gift. But as the focus swung toward kids, Saturday-morning cartoons started carrying an ad that offered a different message: “All day, you gotta do what they say,” the ads said. “But lunchtime is all yours.”

With this marketing strategy in place and pizza Lunchables — the crust in one compartment, the cheese, pepperoni and sauce in others — proving to be a runaway success, the entire world of fast food suddenly opened up for Kraft to pursue. They came out with a Mexican-themed Lunchables called Beef Taco Wraps a Mini Burgers Lunchables a Mini Hot Dog Lunchable, which also happened to provide a way for Oscar Mayer to sell its wieners. By 1999, pancakes — which included syrup, icing, Lifesavers candy and Tang, for a whopping 76 grams of sugar — and waffles were, for a time, part of the Lunchables franchise as well.

Annual sales kept climbing, past $500 million, past $800 million at last count, including sales in Britain, they were approaching the $1 billion mark. Lunchables was more than a hit it was now its own category. Eventually, more than 60 varieties of Lunchables and other brands of trays would show up in the grocery stores. In 2007, Kraft even tried a Lunchables Jr. for 3- to 5-year-olds.

In the trove of records that document the rise of the Lunchables and the sweeping change it brought to lunchtime habits, I came across a photograph of Bob Drane’s daughter, which he had slipped into the Lunchables presentation he showed to food developers. The picture was taken on Monica Drane’s wedding day in 1989, and she was standing outside the family’s home in Madison, a beautiful bride in a white wedding dress, holding one of the brand-new yellow trays.

During the course of reporting, I finally had a chance to ask her about it. Was she really that much of a fan? “There must have been some in the fridge,” she told me. “I probably just took one out before we went to the church. My mom had joked that it was really like their fourth child, my dad invested so much time and energy on it.”

Monica Drane had three of her own children by the time we spoke, ages 10, 14 and 17. “I don’t think my kids have ever eaten a Lunchable,” she told me. “They know they exist and that Grandpa Bob invented them. But we eat very healthfully.”

Drane himself paused only briefly when I asked him if, looking back, he was proud of creating the trays. “Lots of things are trade-offs,” he said. “And I do believe it’s easy to rationalize anything. In the end, I wish that the nutritional profile of the thing could have been better, but I don’t view the entire project as anything but a positive contribution to people’s lives.”

Today Bob Drane is still talking to kids about what they like to eat, but his approach has changed. He volunteers with a nonprofit organization that seeks to build better communications between school kids and their parents, and right in the mix of their problems, alongside the academic struggles, is childhood obesity. Drane has also prepared a précis on the food industry that he used with medical students at the University of Wisconsin. And while he does not name his Lunchables in this document, and cites numerous causes for the obesity epidemic, he holds the entire industry accountable. “What do University of Wisconsin M.B.A.’s learn about how to succeed in marketing?” his presentation to the med students asks. “Discover what consumers want to buy and give it to them with both barrels. Sell more, keep your job! How do marketers often translate these ‘rules’ into action on food? Our limbic brains love sugar, fat, salt. . . . So formulate products to deliver these. Perhaps add low-cost ingredients to boost profit margins. Then ‘supersize’ to sell more. . . . And advertise/promote to lock in ‘heavy users.’ Plenty of guilt to go around here!”

III. ‘It’s Called Vanishing Caloric Density.’

At a symposium for nutrition scientists in Los Angeles on Feb. 15, 1985, a professor of pharmacology from Helsinki named Heikki Karppanen told the remarkable story of Finland’s effort to address its salt habit. In the late 1970s, the Finns were consuming huge amounts of sodium, eating on average more than two teaspoons of salt a day. As a result, the country had developed significant issues with high blood pressure, and men in the eastern part of Finland had the highest rate of fatal cardiovascular disease in the world. Research showed that this plague was not just a quirk of genetics or a result of a sedentary lifestyle — it was also owing to processed foods. So when Finnish authorities moved to address the problem, they went right after the manufacturers. (The Finnish response worked. Every grocery item that was heavy in salt would come to be marked prominently with the warning “High Salt Content.” By 2007, Finland’s per capita consumption of salt had dropped by a third, and this shift — along with improved medical care — was accompanied by a 75 percent to 80 percent decline in the number of deaths from strokes and heart disease.)

Karppanen’s presentation was met with applause, but one man in the crowd seemed particularly intrigued by the presentation, and as Karppanen left the stage, the man intercepted him and asked if they could talk more over dinner. Their conversation later that night was not at all what Karppanen was expecting. His host did indeed have an interest in salt, but from quite a different vantage point: the man’s name was Robert I-San Lin, and from 1974 to 1982, he worked as the chief scientist for Frito-Lay, the nearly $3-billion-a-year manufacturer of Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos and Fritos.

Lin’s time at Frito-Lay coincided with the first attacks by nutrition advocates on salty foods and the first calls for federal regulators to reclassify salt as a “risky” food additive, which could have subjected it to severe controls. No company took this threat more seriously — or more personally — than Frito-Lay, Lin explained to Karppanen over their dinner. Three years after he left Frito-Lay, he was still anguished over his inability to effectively change the company’s recipes and practices.

By chance, I ran across a letter that Lin sent to Karppanen three weeks after that dinner, buried in some files to which I had gained access. Attached to the letter was a memo written when Lin was at Frito-Lay, which detailed some of the company’s efforts in defending salt. I tracked Lin down in Irvine, Calif., where we spent several days going through the internal company memos, strategy papers and handwritten notes he had kept. The documents were evidence of the concern that Lin had for consumers and of the company’s intent on using science not to address the health concerns but to thwart them. While at Frito-Lay, Lin and other company scientists spoke openly about the country’s excessive consumption of sodium and the fact that, as Lin said to me on more than one occasion, “people get addicted to salt.”

Not much had changed by 1986, except Frito-Lay found itself on a rare cold streak. The company had introduced a series of high-profile products that failed miserably. Toppels, a cracker with cheese topping Stuffers, a shell with a variety of fillings Rumbles, a bite-size granola snack — they all came and went in a blink, and the company took a $52 million hit. Around that time, the marketing team was joined by Dwight Riskey, an expert on cravings who had been a fellow at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, where he was part of a team of scientists that found that people could beat their salt habits simply by refraining from salty foods long enough for their taste buds to return to a normal level of sensitivity. He had also done work on the bliss point, showing how a product’s allure is contextual, shaped partly by the other foods a person is eating, and that it changes as people age. This seemed to help explain why Frito-Lay was having so much trouble selling new snacks. The largest single block of customers, the baby boomers, had begun hitting middle age. According to the research, this suggested that their liking for salty snacks — both in the concentration of salt and how much they ate — would be tapering off. Along with the rest of the snack-food industry, Frito-Lay anticipated lower sales because of an aging population, and marketing plans were adjusted to focus even more intently on younger consumers.

Except that snack sales didn’t decline as everyone had projected, Frito-Lay’s doomed product launches notwithstanding. Poring over data one day in his home office, trying to understand just who was consuming all the snack food, Riskey realized that he and his colleagues had been misreading things all along. They had been measuring the snacking habits of different age groups and were seeing what they expected to see, that older consumers ate less than those in their 20s. But what they weren’t measuring, Riskey realized, is how those snacking habits of the boomers compared to themselves when they were in their 20s. When he called up a new set of sales data and performed what’s called a cohort study, following a single group over time, a far more encouraging picture — for Frito-Lay, anyway — emerged. The baby boomers were not eating fewer salty snacks as they aged. “In fact, as those people aged, their consumption of all those segments — the cookies, the crackers, the candy, the chips — was going up,” Riskey said. “They were not only eating what they ate when they were younger, they were eating more of it.” In fact, everyone in the country, on average, was eating more salty snacks than they used to. The rate of consumption was edging up about one-third of a pound every year, with the average intake of snacks like chips and cheese crackers pushing past 12 pounds a year.

Riskey had a theory about what caused this surge: Eating real meals had become a thing of the past. Baby boomers, especially, seemed to have greatly cut down on regular meals. They were skipping breakfast when they had early-morning meetings. They skipped lunch when they then needed to catch up on work because of those meetings. They skipped dinner when their kids stayed out late or grew up and moved out of the house. And when they skipped these meals, they replaced them with snacks. “We looked at this behavior, and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, people were skipping meals right and left,’ ” Riskey told me. “It was amazing.” This led to the next realization, that baby boomers did not represent “a category that is mature, with no growth. This is a category that has huge growth potential.”

The food technicians stopped worrying about inventing new products and instead embraced the industry’s most reliable method for getting consumers to buy more: the line extension. The classic Lay’s potato chips were joined by Salt & Vinegar, Salt & Pepper and Cheddar & Sour Cream. They put out Chili-Cheese-flavored Fritos, and Cheetos were transformed into 21 varieties. Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.

To get a better feel for their work, I called on Steven Witherly, a food scientist who wrote a fascinating guide for industry insiders titled, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.” I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. “This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”

As for their marketing troubles, in a March 2010 meeting, Frito-Lay executives hastened to tell their Wall Street investors that the 1.4 billion boomers worldwide weren’t being neglected they were redoubling their efforts to understand exactly what it was that boomers most wanted in a snack chip. Which was basically everything: great taste, maximum bliss but minimal guilt about health and more maturity than puffs. “They snack a lot,” Frito-Lay’s chief marketing officer, Ann Mukherjee, told the investors. “But what they’re looking for is very different. They’re looking for new experiences, real food experiences.” Frito-Lay acquired Stacy’s Pita Chip Company, which was started by a Massachusetts couple who made food-cart sandwiches and started serving pita chips to their customers in the mid-1990s. In Frito-Lay’s hands, the pita chips averaged 270 milligrams of sodium — nearly one-fifth a whole day’s recommended maximum for most American adults — and were a huge hit among boomers.

The Frito-Lay executives also spoke of the company’s ongoing pursuit of a “designer sodium,” which they hoped, in the near future, would take their sodium loads down by 40 percent. No need to worry about lost sales there, the company’s C.E.O., Al Carey, assured their investors. The boomers would see less salt as the green light to snack like never before.

There’s a paradox at work here. On the one hand, reduction of sodium in snack foods is commendable. On the other, these changes may well result in consumers eating more. “The big thing that will happen here is removing the barriers for boomers and giving them permission to snack,” Carey said. The prospects for lower-salt snacks were so amazing, he added, that the company had set its sights on using the designer salt to conquer the toughest market of all for snacks: schools. He cited, for example, the school-food initiative championed by Bill Clinton and the American Heart Association, which is seeking to improve the nutrition of school food by limiting its load of salt, sugar and fat. “Imagine this,” Carey said. “A potato chip that tastes great and qualifies for the Clinton-A.H.A. alliance for schools . . . . We think we have ways to do all of this on a potato chip, and imagine getting that product into schools, where children can have this product and grow up with it and feel good about eating it.”

Carey’s quote reminded me of something I read in the early stages of my reporting, a 24-page report prepared for Frito-Lay in 1957 by a psychologist named Ernest Dichter. The company’s chips, he wrote, were not selling as well as they could for one simple reason: “While people like and enjoy potato chips, they feel guilty about liking them. . . . Unconsciously, people expect to be punished for ‘letting themselves go’ and enjoying them.” Dichter listed seven “fears and resistances” to the chips: “You can’t stop eating them they’re fattening they’re not good for you they’re greasy and messy to eat they’re too expensive it’s hard to store the leftovers and they’re bad for children.” He spent the rest of his memo laying out his prescriptions, which in time would become widely used not just by Frito-Lay but also by the entire industry. Dichter suggested that Frito-Lay avoid using the word “fried” in referring to its chips and adopt instead the more healthful-sounding term “toasted.” To counteract the “fear of letting oneself go,” he suggested repacking the chips into smaller bags. “The more-anxious consumers, the ones who have the deepest fears about their capacity to control their appetite, will tend to sense the function of the new pack and select it,” he said.

Dichter advised Frito-Lay to move its chips out of the realm of between-meals snacking and turn them into an ever-present item in the American diet. “The increased use of potato chips and other Lay’s products as a part of the regular fare served by restaurants and sandwich bars should be encouraged in a concentrated way,” Dichter said, citing a string of examples: “potato chips with soup, with fruit or vegetable juice appetizers potato chips served as a vegetable on the main dish potato chips with salad potato chips with egg dishes for breakfast potato chips with sandwich orders.”

In 2011, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that shed new light on America’s weight gain. The subjects — 120,877 women and men — were all professionals in the health field, and were likely to be more conscious about nutrition, so the findings might well understate the overall trend. Using data back to 1986, the researchers monitored everything the participants ate, as well as their physical activity and smoking. They found that every four years, the participants exercised less, watched TV more and gained an average of 3.35 pounds. The researchers parsed the data by the caloric content of the foods being eaten, and found the top contributors to weight gain included red meat and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and potatoes, including mashed and French fries. But the largest weight-inducing food was the potato chip. The coating of salt, the fat content that rewards the brain with instant feelings of pleasure, the sugar that exists not as an additive but in the starch of the potato itself — all of this combines to make it the perfect addictive food. “The starch is readily absorbed,” Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, told me. “More quickly even than a similar amount of sugar. The starch, in turn, causes the glucose levels in the blood to spike” — which can result in a craving for more.

If Americans snacked only occasionally, and in small amounts, this would not present the enormous problem that it does. But because so much money and effort has been invested over decades in engineering and then relentlessly selling these products, the effects are seemingly impossible to unwind. More than 30 years have passed since Robert Lin first tangled with Frito-Lay on the imperative of the company to deal with the formulation of its snacks, but as we sat at his dining-room table, sifting through his records, the feelings of regret still played on his face. In his view, three decades had been lost, time that he and a lot of other smart scientists could have spent searching for ways to ease the addiction to salt, sugar and fat. “I couldn’t do much about it,” he told me. “I feel so sorry for the public.”

IV. ‘These People Need a Lot of Things, but They Don’t Need a Coke.’

The growing attention Americans are paying to what they put into their mouths has touched off a new scramble by the processed-food companies to address health concerns. Pressed by the Obama administration and consumers, Kraft, Nestlé, Pepsi, Campbell and General Mills, among others, have begun to trim the loads of salt, sugar and fat in many products. And with consumer advocates pushing for more government intervention, Coca-Cola made headlines in January by releasing ads that promoted its bottled water and low-calorie drinks as a way to counter obesity. Predictably, the ads drew a new volley of scorn from critics who pointed to the company’s continuing drive to sell sugary Coke.

One of the other executives I spoke with at length was Jeffrey Dunn, who, in 2001, at age 44, was directing more than half of Coca-Cola’s $20 billion in annual sales as president and chief operating officer in both North and South America. In an effort to control as much market share as possible, Coke extended its aggressive marketing to especially poor or vulnerable areas of the U.S., like New Orleans — where people were drinking twice as much Coke as the national average — or Rome, Ga., where the per capita intake was nearly three Cokes a day. In Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, the biggest consumers were referred to as “heavy users.” “The other model we use was called ‘drinks and drinkers,’ ” Dunn said. “How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.”

One of Dunn’s lieutenants, Todd Putman, who worked at Coca-Cola from 1997 to 2001, said the goal became much larger than merely beating the rival brands Coca-Cola strove to outsell every other thing people drank, including milk and water. The marketing division’s efforts boiled down to one question, Putman said: “How can we drive more ounces into more bodies more often?” (In response to Putman’s remarks, Coke said its goals have changed and that it now focuses on providing consumers with more low- or no-calorie products.)

In his capacity, Dunn was making frequent trips to Brazil, where the company had recently begun a push to increase consumption of Coke among the many Brazilians living in favelas. The company’s strategy was to repackage Coke into smaller, more affordable 6.7-ounce bottles, just 20 cents each. Coke was not alone in seeing Brazil as a potential boon Nestlé began deploying battalions of women to travel poor neighborhoods, hawking American-style processed foods door to door. But Coke was Dunn’s concern, and on one trip, as he walked through one of the impoverished areas, he had an epiphany. “A voice in my head says, ‘These people need a lot of things, but they don’t need a Coke.’ I almost threw up.”

Dunn returned to Atlanta, determined to make some changes. He didn’t want to abandon the soda business, but he did want to try to steer the company into a more healthful mode, and one of the things he pushed for was to stop marketing Coke in public schools. The independent companies that bottled Coke viewed his plans as reactionary. A director of one bottler wrote a letter to Coke’s chief executive and board asking for Dunn’s head. “He said what I had done was the worst thing he had seen in 50 years in the business,” Dunn said. “Just to placate these crazy leftist school districts who were trying to keep people from having their Coke. He said I was an embarrassment to the company, and I should be fired.” In February 2004, he was.

Dunn told me that talking about Coke’s business today was by no means easy and, because he continues to work in the food business, not without risk. “You really don’t want them mad at you,” he said. “And I don’t mean that, like, I’m going to end up at the bottom of the bay. But they don’t have a sense of humor when it comes to this stuff. They’re a very, very aggressive company.”

When I met with Dunn, he told me not just about his years at Coke but also about his new marketing venture. In April 2010, he met with three executives from Madison Dearborn Partners, a private-equity firm based in Chicago with a wide-ranging portfolio of investments. They recently hired Dunn to run one of their newest acquisitions — a food producer in the San Joaquin Valley. As they sat in the hotel’s meeting room, the men listened to Dunn’s marketing pitch. He talked about giving the product a personality that was bold and irreverent, conveying the idea that this was the ultimate snack food. He went into detail on how he would target a special segment of the 146 million Americans who are regular snackers — mothers, children, young professionals — people, he said, who “keep their snacking ritual fresh by trying a new food product when it catches their attention.”

He explained how he would deploy strategic storytelling in the ad campaign for this snack, using a key phrase that had been developed with much calculation: “Eat ’Em Like Junk Food.”

After 45 minutes, Dunn clicked off the last slide and thanked the men for coming. Madison’s portfolio contained the largest Burger King franchise in the world, the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain and a processed-food maker called AdvancePierre whose lineup includes the Jamwich, a peanut-butter-and-jelly contrivance that comes frozen, crustless and embedded with four kinds of sugars.

The snack that Dunn was proposing to sell: carrots. Plain, fresh carrots. No added sugar. No creamy sauce or dips. No salt. Just baby carrots, washed, bagged, then sold into the deadly dull produce aisle.

“We act like a snack, not a vegetable,” he told the investors. “We exploit the rules of junk food to fuel the baby-carrot conversation. We are pro-junk-food behavior but anti-junk-food establishment.”

The investors were thinking only about sales. They had already bought one of the two biggest farm producers of baby carrots in the country, and they’d hired Dunn to run the whole operation. Now, after his pitch, they were relieved. Dunn had figured out that using the industry’s own marketing ploys would work better than anything else. He drew from the bag of tricks that he mastered in his 20 years at Coca-Cola, where he learned one of the most critical rules in processed food: The selling of food matters as much as the food itself.

Later, describing his new line of work, Dunn told me he was doing penance for his Coca-Cola years. “I’m paying my karmic debt,” he said.

Kellogg’s removes Pringles ad from Joe Wicks YouTube channel amid claims of ‘irresponsible marketing’

Kellogg’s has removed advertisements for Pringles from Joe Wicks’ YouTube channel amid claims they are “irresponsibly marketing” unhealthy food to children.

In April, a “pre-roll” advertisement for Pringles, which is owned by Kellogg’s, appeared when children and adults tuned in to watch Wicks’ PE lesson video workouts, which he livestreams on his YouTube channel every weekday.

Kellogg’s originally placed its Pringles advertising on the fitness star’s YouTube channel in March, when it was targeted predominantly at adults. However, the channel has since become popular among children as they partake in Wicks’ PE lessons.

The government states that food and drink brands are not permitted to promote “less healthy” products on children’s TV or on other media channels when more than a quarter of the audience consists of young people under the age of 16.

However, Children’s Food Campaign argued that there are “loopholes for online platforms and social media, as well as for peak-time family TV viewing”, which means that “junk food brands and digital marketeers can currently find other tactics to lure children in”.


A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about the advertising of Pringles on Wicks’ YouTube channel.

While the advertising watchdog decided not to pursue a formal regulatory investigation into the issue, Kellogg’s has removed its Pringles advertising from the YouTube channel following complaints.

On the ASA’s website, it states that the issue has been “informally resolved”.

Barbara Crowther, spokesperson for Children’s Food Campaign, said the Pringles advertising in question was “a misleading and counterproductive message for industry to be pushing”.

“Placing this ad directly before Joe’s hugely popular children’s daily PE class is a total betrayal of his work, and highly insensitive, irresponsible marketing,” Ms Crowther said.

“Children are even more of a captive audience during this lockdown, and we are hugely concerned that they are still being subjected to unhealthy food advertising like this.”

Katharine Jenner, campaign director at Action on Salt and Sugar, added that in the current climate, “health is more important than ever”, stating that “our health systems and governments are under enormous pressure”.

Children’s Food Campaign and Action on Salt and Sugar have united to urge food and drink companies to refrain from advertising any food or drink products that are high in fat, salt or sugar before 9pm on any media platform throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last month the UK’s biggest betting and gaming companies showed some degree of moral fibre by agreeing to stop advertising their products on both TV and radio during the lockdown, in a bid to reduce exposure to those at risk of addiction,” Ms Jenner said.

Six healthy breakfast recipes to try

1 /6 Six healthy breakfast recipes to try

Six healthy breakfast recipes to try

1) Cook your turkey breast so that it’s ready to add to the mix later on. Best to grill it and then chop it up as it’s healthier than shallow frying. 2) Meanwhile, heat the oil and add your onion, pepper, chilli, mushrooms and celery to your pan. Cook these for around five minutes until your veg is nice and soft. 3) Whisk your eggs and milk together in a separate bowl, seasoning with salt and pepper. 4) Add the egg mixture, veg, cooked turkey and cheese to a high-sided baking pan or tin and cook in your oven for around 15 minutes at 170C.

Six healthy breakfast recipes to try

Six healthy breakfast recipes to try

1) Boil your asparagus in water for around five minutes. 2) Meanwhile, mix your eggs and egg whites in a jug, and add a splash of skimmed milk. Chop some peppers up and throw them in too. 3) Once your asparagus is cooked, drain it and chop into smaller chunks. Add these to your egg mixture. 4) Whisk your mixture and season with salt and pepper. 5) Pour the mix into a hot pan with a small knob of butter or a teaspoon of quality olive oil. 6) Cook the omelette for around 90 seconds to two minutes. 7) Once the bottom is cooked, take the pan off the hob and place under the grill for another 30 seconds to a minute in order to cook the top. 8) Serve with your smoked salmon.

Cap'n Crunch has been made into beer

Pouring beer in your Cap'n Crunch seems like something you'd see in a college party movie. Yeah, it sounds pretty gross, but you don't know if you don't try it, right? Well, something way more appetizing has come along in the form of Cap'n Crunch-flavored beer.

The beer geniuses at Massachusetts's Somerville Brewing Company decided that the worlds of Cap'n Crunch and craft beer should unite, and in 2017, they released a beer called Saturday Morning.

According to Tasting Table, the beer is a Belgian-style ale that's infused with Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries. "Cap'n Crunch is made with oat, wheat and corn, and, like most breakfast cereals, it's a showcase for sugar," Somerville's brewmaster, Jeff Leiter, said. "We felt the malt sweetness of a tripel would provide an ideal canvas." Leiter described the taste as having the Belgian beer smoothness, but with a fruity finish from the cereal.

Drinking it in your pajamas while watching old episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't scientifically proven to enhance the taste, but it can't hurt.

Watch the video: Τζόνσον: Θα κάνουμε το Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο, το σπουδαιότερο μέρος στον κόσμο (June 2022).


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