Facing Criticism, Food Majors Go for Image Makeover
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
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
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.
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