Big G, Others Unveil Plan for Advertising to Kids

The country's food industry released a new plan to self-regulate the products that it markets to children, but those plans are reportedly less stringent than recommended guidelines from the federal government.

A group of some of the country's largest food manufacturers-including Golden Valley-based General Mills, Inc.-on Thursday announced that they have agreed on new criteria for how they advertise food to children.

But the industry's new self-policing plan is reportedly less stringent than recently recommended guidelines from federal regulators, which are opposed by the food makers.

The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI)-a group the industry formed to address marketing issues-said that the criteria were developed in conjunction with food industry scientists and nutritionists, and “will further strengthen voluntary efforts to change child-directed food advertising.”

Roughly one third of products currently marketed to kids don't meet the new criteria, the group said. The new rules will require companies to alter recipes or risk not being able to advertise them after December 31, 2013.

The rules are meant to encourage the development of new products with less sodium, saturated fat, and sugars, as well as fewer calories. Many companies have their own rules, but the new criteria are meant to make them uniform across the industry, according to the CFBAI.

The industry gave each food category its own set of rules. For example, juices can't include added sugars and servings can't contain more than 160 calories, if they are to be advertised to children. Six-ounce portions of yogurt products are limited to 170 calories and 23 grams of total sugars. (General Mills is currently looking to expand its yogurt operations after recently acquiring a 51 percent stake in Yoplait, S.A.S.)

Children's breakfast cereals, another key business for General Mills, must contain less than 10 grams of sugar to be advertised to kids, under the industry's voluntary guidelines.

According to a report by the Star Tribune, that marks a departure from the government's recommendations, which discourage advertising of cereals with more than 8 grams of sugar per serving.

Congress directed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other government agencies to develop voluntary guidelines for marketing junk food to children, and those rules were issued earlier this year. According to the Star Tribune, they are relatively broad rules regarding the amount of fats, sugars, and sodium that would apply to the marketing of all foods. The industry's recently released guidelines suggest different rules for different foods, which the companies describe as a more practical approach.

The Minneapolis newspaper points out that reformulating products to meet these requirements-whether they're the more lenient industry-released rules or the government's recommendations-can be costly and time-consuming.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said that the government will consider the industries' new guidelines as it continues to develop its own standards, the Star Tribune reported.

General Mills, which is Minnesota's eighth-largest public company, has previously announced initiatives to reduce sugar levels in its cereals that are advertised to children.