Facing Criticism, Food Majors Go for Image Makeover
Ratna Bhushan
Economic Times
July 12, 2010

NEW DELHI: This may not be walking the talk, but food companies, including McDonald’s, KFC, Nestle, Hindustan Unilever, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are increasing the use of social and health-related messages in their advertising and packaging.

Facing heightened pressure from anti-obesity campaigns, health activists and nutritionists for selling products that aid weight gain, these companies are trying hard to create a healthy image.

Burger and fries chain McDonald’s India plans to introduce its global ‘balanced active lifestyles’ programme in the country over the next few quarters and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is evaluating associating with cricket to ‘promote healthy lifestyles’, while world’s largest foods company Nestle’s advertising for its Milkybar white chocolate brand shows mothers urging kids to ‘go out and play’ (with the tagline “dum hai to bahar nikal”).

“Our balanced active lifestyles programme underscores the interplay between eating right and staying active,” said a McDonald’s India (North & East) spokesman.

The restaurant chain has already started providing nutritional information about its food items. The other two aspects of the initiative — offering wider menu choices and promoting physical activity — are being studied for future rollout, he said.

The Indian arms of Unilever, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have their tasks cut out in line with global commitments.

Unilever is working on a global salt reduction strategy covering 22,000 products by 2010-end. The consumer goods giant says it will reduce salt in its products to target a dietary intake of 6 g of salt per day and take it further to 5 g per day by 2015-end.

Beverage and snacks maker PepsiCo says it will remove sugary drinks from schools by 2012 — a move it hopes will spruce up its image as a beverage company that does not aid unhealthy diet habits.

Rival Coca-Cola is working on plans to put nutritional information of product front packs by 2011-end. It’s not easy to buy credibility though.

Last week, for example, beverage and snacks foods major PepsiCo’s plans to pay for blogging on nutrition on science-based blog ScienceBlogs.com were rejected, and within two days of announcement the partnership was called off.

But then, these initiatives may be the only way forward for these firms, as they are facing a backlash not only from nutritionists but are also under the regulator’s lens, in India as well as the rest of the world.

The upcoming integrated food law under the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is putting in place a series of mandatory guidelines for companies against promoting ‘unhealthy’ food habits.

The new guidelines will put under scanner claims about ingredients used in foods or ‘health benefits’, foods marketed as substitutes for meals, portion sizes, communication aimed at children and labelling on food packs.

“The authority has restricting and penalising powers for unfair claims made by foods companies. All foods, for example, have to comply with nutritional stipulations and recommended portion sizes,” FSSAI chairperson PI Suvrathan had recently told ET.

According to Unnat Varma, director marketing, KFC, upcoming sports-related associations with the chain will directly promote healthy lifestyles. In many global markets, KFC is a sponsor of NBA and ICC.

“Plans to associate with these sports are under evaluation though a definite timeline has not yet been set. But we have started declaring the nutritional value of products through leaflets across KFC stores — consumers are free to make informed choices,” he said ITC Foods, which prints nutritional labelling on front packs of its Bingo chips, says the move is a key differentiator between packaged branded and unbranded foods. Said ITC Foods division’s GM (marketing & exports) VL Rajesh: “Declaration of detailed nutritional information upfront is the primary medium of interaction with the consumer and we are there.”

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) too has been printing a ‘Healthy Choice’ logo on its Knorr and Bru products. But not all such moves work, as has been the case with PepsiCo’s blogging experiment.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. India Resource Center is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.




Home | About | How to Use this Site | Sitemap | Privacy Policy

India Resource Center (IRC) is a project of Global Resistance -- "Building Global Links for Justice"
URL: http://www.IndiaResource.org Email:IndiaResource (AT) igc.org