Food and beverage companies have made significant changes in the way to they market their products to children as a result of industry-wide self-regulatory initiatives, according to new research from Australia.
The independent review, conducted by Susannah Tymms, a researcher specialising in regulatory reform, found that the majority of companies that had signed up to participate in responsible grocery marketing initiatives have been going above and beyond codified requirements.
These include programmes like the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI), which aims to moderate children’s exposure to advertisements for non-core food.
Policy paying off
Gary Dawson, chief executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), which manages the RCMI and other codes, said the research findings were evidence that self-regulation has been working.
“We are pleased to see independent recognition that these self-regulatory codes have effected significant changes in marketing principles and strategies within signatory businesses,” said Dawson.
The analysis found that 74% of signatories to self-regulatory codes had voluntarily exceeded the standards of the codes. It also revealed that the majority of signatories reported that ratifying codes was important for their business.
“The AFGC supports ongoing independent monitoring of advertising to children, and is working with the Australian National Preventative Health Agency to develop a framework for monitoring the initiatives, ensuring the integrity and transparency of industry led initiatives to uphold responsible marketing practices,” continued Dawson.
The report cited industry initiatives have been successful in removing virtually all non-core food advertising that is primarily directed at children. Recent monitoring figures demonstrate that non-core food advertising during children’s programming slots represents just 0.7 per cent of all food and beverage advertising.
Cuts both ways
“Signatoriesare motivated by acknowledged responsibility for shifting marketing principles towards proactive encouragement of a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet, particularly in relation to children,” wrote Tymms. “As a result of changing community expectations in Australia and globally, signing the codes is an investment in company reputation and brand.”
However, the report did outline a number of recommendations to further enhance the success of such initiatives. Among these was the point that: “The AFGC should commence a review of nutrition criteria. The criteria should be used as the benchmark for product reformulation and development, allowing the industry to report on improvements to the nutritional profile of products marketed to children over time as part of the code reporting process.”
However, it was not all milk and honey for the industry and some signatories revealed they had experienced some challenges in implementing self-regulatory codes. These included internal tensions between corporate affairs and marketing divisions, and difficulties in educating external advertising and PR agencies about the requirements of the codes.
Ed's note: Have you noticed an improvement in the way companies are marketing their foods and beverages to your children? Do you put this down to self-regulation or to more centralised policies. Please let us know what you think in the comments below.