Currently browsing posts about: Kraft

Mar 21 2013

If we want food companies to act ethically…

I was fascinated to read Michael Mudd’s piece in the New York Times on Sunday, “How to force ethics on the food industry.”  Noting that the court overturned Mayor Bloomberg’s 16-ounce soda ban, he said:

But governments should not be deterred by this and should step up their efforts to protect the public health by limiting the marketing tactics of food companies. Anyone who believes these interventions are uncalled-for doesn’t know the industry the way I do.

…The industry is guilty because it knew what the consequences of its actions might be. Large food processors employed a flock of Ph.D. nutritionists and food scientists. The connection between calorie consumption and weight gain was always as plain as the number on the bathroom scale. But instead of acknowledging this and taking corrective action to sell a better product more responsibly, food processors played innocent by blending in with the crowd of causes.

This sent me to dig through my files to search for what I’d saved about Mr. Mudd’s efforts at Kraft.  Here, for example, is the front page of USA Today, July 1, 2003.  Kraft chose USA Today to announce its new anti-obesity initiatives, and gave it an exclusive to do so.

The initiatives included, among a long list, elimination of all in-school marketing, setting nutritional criteria for marketing practices, and establishing meaningful criteria for health claims.

Even at the time, I was dubious:

They have to demonstrate what it is they’re actually doing before I can start turning cartwheels about this…Kraft has other credibility problems when it comes to marketing healthier products…Philip Morris Co., the tobacco giant now called Altria Group, owns 84 percent of Kraft [Altria sold off Kraft in 2007].

One year later, Kraft announced  that  it had begun to act on its promises.  After another six months, Kraft introduced its Sensible Solution  program  to label “better-for-you” products. leaving plenty to be dubious about.  By 2004, Michael Mudd was no longer with Kraft.

In 2007, I sent a couple of students out to see whether Kraft had kept its promises.  Not a chance, as we documented.

How come?  Food companies are not social service agencies.  Their job is to sell products.  And, as Michael Moss explains in Salt, Sugar, Fatthey must do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

As Mr. Mudd now puts it,

It’s time to end the charade and mandate the needed changes that the industry has refused to make. 

Dec 22 2011

The latest in new product introductions

You may be interested in how real foods improve health and well being, taste better, reduce waste, and are friendlier to the environment.

But such foods, alas, are much less profitable than those highly processed.

Caroline Scott-Thomas of Food Navigator USA gives us a preview of what Big Food has in store for us next year. Coming soon to a store near you:

From General Mills:
  • Dulce de Leche Cheerios
  • Peanut butter Cheerios

And from Kraft:

  • BelVita breakfast biscuit, a cookie-type product made with whole grains and fortified with vitamins and minerals
  • MilkBite Milk and Granola bars with as much calcium as an 8oz glass of milk
  • New flavor combinations for Velveeta Cheesy Skillets Dinner Kits
  • New Kraft Sizzling Salads Dinner Kits to which you can add your choice of meat and vegetables

The rationale for this last one?

Americans are having more interactive experiences with food and want the opportunity to do some of the cooking themselves. With global influence and the merging of different cultures, consumers are open to new flavor combinations. Being able to customize the flavor and texture to enhance the end dish is important and Kraft Foods is delivering.

Real food anyone?  Or—how’s this for an idea—real cooking?

Mar 25 2011

Are processed “junk” foods in trouble?

So many readers have sent me the link to the Chicago Tribune story about efforts of packaged food producers to make their products look healthy that I thought I had best say something about it.

The article lists the large number of companies that are “healthifying” their products:

  • PepsiCo: Combining Tropicana, Quaker Oats and dairy; low-sodium salt.
  • Walmart: Cutting trans fat and sodium in its Great Value products; encouraging major brands to make healthier products.
  • Kraft:  Adding fruit to Lunchables and more whole grain to Wheat Thins.
  • Nestlé (no relation): Making small changes so consumers won’t feel deprived.
  • Campbell’s:  Trying to reduce sodium in soup, promoting liquid vegetables through its V8 brand and whole grains with Pepperidge Farm.
  • Starbucks: Offering sweets with 200 or fewer calories.

And Pepsi, says the Wall Street Journal, is converting most of its products—but not Doritos or Cheetos—to all-natural ingredients.  Doritos and Cheetos, in case you wondered, are:

harder to retool and are marketed to teens and other consumers who might be turned off if told the chips were all natural.  As well, going all natural risks highlighting the artificial ingredients that were in the chips before.

What’s going on here?  Processed food makers must be in trouble.  “Healthy” and “natural” are the only things selling these days.

But isn’t a “healthy” processed snack food an oxymoron?  They can tweak and tweak the contents, but these products will still be heavily processed.

Too much evidence now concludes that marketing a product as “healthy” or “natural” makes people think it has no calories.

And as I keep saying, just because a processed food is a little bit less bad than it used to be, doesn’t necessarily make it a good choice.

Jun 3 2010

Kraft pushes aliens to sell Lunchables?

I don’t know how Michele Simon finds these things but she has just sent me this link to the latest video advertisement for Kraft’s Lunchables on YouTube’s Kids’ Channel.

As Melanie Warner points out,  Kraft has promised not to advertise its junk foods to kids under the age of 12.

Or maybe Kraft just means this to be advertising its “better-for-you” Lunchables?  The ones that are slightly lower in saturated fat, salt, and sugars?

What do you suppose an ad like this costs?

Mar 18 2010

What are food companies doing about childhood obesity?

Food companies interested in doing something meaningful to prevent childhood obesity are in a bind.  Preventing obesity usually means staying active; eating real, not processed, foods; and reserving soft drinks and juice drinks for special occasions.  None of this is good for the processed food business.  At best, food and beverage companies can make their products a bit less junky and back off from marketing to children.  In return, they can use the small changes they make for marketing purposes.

Perhaps as a result of Michelle Obama’s campaign (see yesterday’s post), companies are falling all over themselves – and with much fanfare – to tweak their products.

GROCERY MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION (GMA):  By all reports, GMA members applauded Mrs. Obama’s remarks.  GMA says its member companies are already doing what she asked.

Parke Wilde, a professor at the Tufts School of Nutrition (and food policy blogger), gave a talk at that meeting in a session dismissingly titled,  “The New Foodism.”  His comment:

I enjoyed hearing Michelle Obama’s talk, which was well written and delivered and fairly forceful in places. In my afternoon panel, I said grocery manufacturers would find some threatening themes in books and documentaries promoting local and organic and sustainable food, but that there is also much of substance and value. Then, Susan Borra [Edelman Public Relations] and Sally Squires [Powell Tate Public Relations] in the next session said that grocery manufacturers are frequent subjects of unfair criticism and have nothing to apologize for.

Take that, you new foodists!

MARS must think it knows more than the FDA about how to label food packages.  It is developing its own version of front-of-package labels. It volunteered to put calories on the front of its candies; its multi-pack candies ay 210 calories per serving on the front.  That number, however, remains on the back of the small candy store packs.  Mars’ new labeling plans use the complex scheme used in Europe.  I’m guessing this is a bold attempt to head off what it thinks the FDA might do – traffic lights.

KRAFT announces that it is voluntarily reducing the sodium in its foods by 10% by 2012.  Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese (SpongeBob package) has 580 mg sodium per serving and there are two servings in one of those small boxes: 1160 in total.  A 10% reduction will bring it down to 1050 mg within two years.  The upper recommended limit for an adult is 2300 mg/day.

PEPSICO announced “a voluntary policy to stop sales of full-sugar soft drinks to primary and secondary schools worldwide by 2012.”  In a press statement, the Yale Rudd Center quotes Kelly Brownell saying that “tobacco companies were notorious for counteracting declining sales in the U.S. with exploitation of markets elsewhere, particularly in developing countries:”

it will be important to monitor whether the mere presence of beverage companies in schools increases demand for sugared beverages through branding, even if full-sugar beverages themselves are unavailable…This appears to be a good faith effort from a progressive company and I hope other beverage companies follow their lead…this announcement definitely represents progress [Note: see clarification at end of post].

According to PepsiCo, this new policy brings its international actions in line with what it is already doing in the U.S.  The policy itself is voluntary, uses words like “encourage,” assures schools that the company is not telling them what to do, and won’t be fully implemented until 2010.  It keeps vending machines in schools and still allows for plenty of branded sugary drinks: Gatorade, juice drinks, and sweetened milk for example.

Could any of this have anything to do with Kelly Brownell’s forceful endorsement of soda taxes?

LOBBYING: The Center for Responsive Politics says food companies spent big money on lobbying last year, and notes an enormous increase in the amount spent by the American Beverage Association (soda taxes, anyone?).  For example:

American Beverage Assn $18,850,000
Coca-Cola Co $9,390,000
PepsiCo Inc $9,159,500
Coca-Cola Enterprises $3,020,000
National Restaurant Assn $2,917,000
Mars Inc $1,655,000

How to view all this?  I see the company promises as useful first steps.  But how about the basic philosophical question we “new foodists” love to ask: “is a better-for-you junk food a good choice?”

OK.  We have the Public Relations.  Now let’s see what these companies really will do.

Addendum: I received a note clarifying Kelly Brownell’s role in the PepsiCo press release from Rebecca Gertsmark Oren,Communications Director,The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity,Yale University:

The Rudd Center did not work with PepsiCo on their initiative to stop sales of full-sugar beverages in schools worldwide, nor did we jointly issue a press release. A statement released by Kelly Brownell in response to PepsiCo’s announcement was simply intended to commend what appears to be a step in the right direction. As Kelly’s statement also mentioned, there is still plenty of work to be done. It’s also worth noting that the Rudd Center does not take funding from industry.

Jun 14 2007

Kellogg’s Nutrition Announcement

In an announcement quite similar to one made by Kraft a few years ago, Kellogg today said that it will stop promoting most of its junk foods to children under age 12 (see news release). Here is my comment:

Kellogg has been one of the most active companies in marketing junk foods to children—sugary cereals, Pop-Tarts, and Cheez-Its come to mind (see the chapter on “Foods Just for Kids” in What to Eat). That is why Center for Science in the Public Interest singled Kellogg out as a target for a potential lawsuit. Kellogg responded by taking a good hard look at company practices and agreeing to fix some of the worst. Let’s give the company credit for making impressive promises. But the proof will be in what it actually does. If Kellogg starts to lose sales as a result of the promised changes, the improvements are unlikely to last and the company will find other ways to market its products to kids. I say this because my conversation with a Kellogg official earlier this week was a word-for-word duplicate of one I had with an official of Kraft a few years ago when Kraft announced that it was reformulating its products and would be limiting its marketing to kids. Kraft did indeed make some of its promised changes but as some students of mine demonstrated last year, the company is still actively engaged in marketing junky foods to children (see paper by Lewin et al). I think food companies are in an enormously difficult position on this issue. Even if they want to do the right thing and really care about kids’ health, their primary responsibility is to meet stockholders’ investment expectations. If the reformulated products don’t sell, or if overall sales decline, the companies will be forced to find other ways to generate income. Let’s hope Kellogg is able to do what it promises, and that other companies immediately follow suit.