by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Marketing to kids

Apr 26 2024

Weekend reading: report on sugar content of Nestlé’s baby food products—by country

An investigative report from Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN): “How Nestlé gets children hooked on sugar in lower-income countries.”

Nestlé’s leading baby-food brands, promoted in low- and middle-income countries as healthy and key to supporting young children’s development, contain high levels of added sugar. In Switzerland, where Nestlé is headquartered, such products are sold with no added sugar. These are the main findings of a new investigation by Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), which shed light on Nestlé’s hypocrisy and the deceptive marketing strategies deployed by the Swiss food giant.

The report points out that Nestlé (no relation) “currently controls 20 percent of the baby-food market, valued at nearly $70 billion.”

Nestlé promotes Cerelac and Nido as brands whose aim is to help children “live healthier lives”. Fortified with vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients, these products are, according to the multinational, tailored to the needs of babies and young children and help to strengthen their growth, immune system and cognitive development….

Spoiler alert: Our investigation shows that, for Nestlé, not all babies are equal when it comes to added sugar. While in Switzerland, where the company is headquartered, the main infant cereals and formula brands sold by the multinational come without added sugar, most Cerelac and Nido products marketed in lower-income countries do contain added sugar, often at high levels.

For example, in Switzerland, Nestlé promotes its biscuit-flavoured cereals for babies aged from six months with the claim “no added sugar”, while in Senegal and South Africa, Cerelac cereals with the same flavour contain 6 grams of added sugar per serving….

Similarly, in Germany, France and the UK – Nestlé’s main European markets – all formulas for young children aged 12-36 months sold by the company contain no added sugar. And while some infant cereals for young children over one year old contain added sugar, cereals for babies aged six months do not.

Do small amounts of sugar like these make any difference to babies’ health?  After all, 6 gram is just a bit more than a teaspoon.

They might make a big difference:

  • They get kids hooked on sugars.
  • The sugars can add up quickly.

For sure, this report shows is that sugar is not really necessary.  It is there to encourage sales, not health.

The report is getting international publicity:

Jan 3 2024

Senator Bernie Sanders vs. Big Food

Just before the Christmas holidays, Senator Bernie Sanders (Ind-VT), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee , held a hearing: What is Fueling the Diabetes Epidemic? 

The Senator’s Tweet:

Some of the quotes from the Senator’s remarks are amazing.  They need to be said, loud and clear:

  • Why is the number of children in America today who have Type 2 diabetes estimated to skyrocket by nearly 700% over the next four decades?
  • For decades, in my view, we have allowed large corporations in the food and beverage industry to entice children to eat foods and beverages loaded up with sugar, salt, and saturated fat, purposely designed to be over-eaten,
  • The situation has gotten so bad that most of what children in America eat today consists of unhealthy, ultra-processed foods that doctors have told us lead to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • While diabetes and obesity rates in America soar, the food and beverage industry spends billions on advertising to get consumers, including young children, hooked on their unhealthy products.
  • This has got to stop. A good place to start? Banning junk food ads targeted at kids.
  • This is not a radical idea.
  • We must have the courage to take on the greed of the food and beverage industry which, every day, is undermining the health and well-being of our children by pushing extremely unhealthy products which far too often cause obesity and type-2 diabetes.

The hearing began with:

Witness testimony

Senator Sanders also wrote an op-ed in USA Today: “We can’t allow the food and beverage industry to destroy our kids’ health.

Helena Bottemiller Evich, writing in Food Fix “Bernie Sanders vs. Big Food,” asks why Sanders is doing this now?  She has no answer, but I think its fabulous that he is taking this on and joining Senator Cory Booker in this endeavor.

Diet-related chronic diseases are a big problem for kids as well as adults.

It’s way past time to take on the food industry’s manipulative marketing practices.

Cheers to Senators Sanders and Booker.  We need more of you in Congress.

Aug 31 2023

The Food Politics of—Barbie!

Now that Barbie is a feminist icon, I have to confess I have two of them in my NYU office.

At one point I must have owned three, because here is an illustration from my book, Food Politics, published in 2002.

The feet on the MacDonald’s Barbie are flat—she’s wearing sneakers, appropriately for a doll on her feet all day.

The Oreo purse is a nice touch.

I don’t know what happened to my Coca-Cola Barbie but the other two are still in their boxes.

Who knew?

Aug 3 2023

Annals of marketing to kids–Sweet drink collectibles!

I thought I had seen everything when it comes to marketing to kids, but I never would have imagined this one.  Sweet drinks aimed at kids with animal-shaped tops: “Collect them all!”

The photo was sent to me by a reader who spotted these in a Safeway in a suburb of Sacramento.  I have not seem them in any of my local New York markets.

The reader also send photos of the Nutrition Facts panel—19 grams of sugars in 6 ounces.

I went to the company website to check the ingredients.

Here’s the list for 100% Fruit Punch Juice

Water, Concentrated Apple, Pear And Grape Juices, Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Natural Fruit Punch Flavor.

Note the title carefully—it does not say this is 100% juice.  The “juice” comes from fruit concentrates, essentially fruit-flavored sugar.

Lest you worry about the sugar, the product comes with claims (and my comments):

  • No sugar added (it doesn’t have to be; the concentrates have plenty)
  • Excellent source of vitamin C (because it’s added)
  • Non GMO (the FDA has not approved GMO apples, pears, or grapes)
  • No artificial colors (at least that).
  • No artificial preservatives (ditto).
  • Pasteurized (ditto).
  • No artificial flavors (we can argue about what “natural fruit punch flavor” is likely to be).

The company sponsors a club for kid collectors (“the good-for-you-juice has never been so fun!”).

And it offers plenty of options to collect: “Topped with 200+ of your kids favorite characters.”

The company, good2grow, is owned by Wind Point Partners, a venture capital company.

Our value creation plan focuses on driving velocity and distribution gains, increasing penetration of non-core juice SKUs.

Will the cute cartoon toys take market share away from all the other sweetened drinks aimed at kids?  That’s their point.  We will see whether it works.

Parents: do not take your kids into the kids’ drink sections of supermarkets.

If you must buy your kids a sweet drink, one made with diluted fruit juice is a reasonable choice.

Jul 28 2023

UNICEF’s manual on protecting children from food marketing

Increasingly and more urgently concerned about the effects on children of unrestricted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, UNICEF and WHO have produced an invaluable manual on why and how governments must act to curb such marketing.

This is a follow up to the UNICEF report I talked about last week on engagement with food and beverage companies and to the WHO recommendations I posted about yesterday.

WHO and UNICEF are on a roll!

The rationale for this publication:

Food and beverage companies play a significant role in shaping children’s food environments, but their objectives are profit driven rather than child centred. They have a vested commercial interest in increasing sales of their unhealthy products and use highly immersive, engaging – and often unethical – marketing techniques to target children and their caregivers.
We know that food marketing harms children. It negatively affects children’s food preferences, purchase decisions and consumption behaviours, ultimately contributing to childhood obesity and diet-related disease. Food marketing also affects household purchasing decisions and the types of foods that are eaten in the home.

Among this report’s key messages:

  • The evidence is clear that food marketing harms children – especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
  • Tackling food marketing is challenging: past experience shows that food companies use loopholes and develop new strategies to bypass restrictions.
  • Voluntary schemes are ineffective in reducing children’s exposure to foodmarketing.
  • Mandatory regulation has the potential to be the most effective path to protecting children from the harmful impact of food

Governments must act.  Now.

This exceptionaly timely and important report explains how.

Jul 13 2023

WHO recommends policies to restrict food marketing to kids

The World Health Organization has just come out with a new report on protecting children from the harms of marketing unhealthy food to kids.

Some conclusions from research on the effects of marketing unhealthy foods to kids:

  • Across studies, the most frequently marketed food categories were fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages, chocolate and confectionery, salty and savoury snacks, sweet bakery items and snacks, breakfast cereals, and desserts.
  • Reductions in children’s exposure to food marketing were more often found with: mandatory policies; policies designed to restrict food marketing to children, including those older than 12 years; and policies that used a government-led nutrient profile model to determine the foods for which marketing was to be restricted.
  • Reductions in the power of food marketing were more often found with: mandatory policies; and policies designed to restrict food marketing to children, including those older than 12 years.
  • Policies to protect children from the harmful impacts of food marketing would be highly cost-effective or cost-saving.
  • Policies to protect children from the harmful impacts of food marketing can be expected to reduce health inequities.
  • In HICs [high-income countries], policies to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing are largely acceptable to
    the public, but industry has generally opposed government-led restrictions.
  • Some countries have successfully implemented policies, demonstrating that policies are acceptable to government and policy-makers and feasible to implement.

Therefore, WHO recommends that policies:

  • Be mandatory
  • Protect children of all ages
  • Use a government-led nutrient profile model to classify foods to be restricted from marketing;
  • Be sufficiently comprehensive to minimize the risk of migration of marketing to other media, to other spaces within the same medium or to other age groups
  • Restrict the power of food marketing to persuade.


WHO has just given governments a mandate to take action.  Go for it!

Jul 7 2023

Weekend reading: UNICEF policy on engagement with food and beverage companies

UNICEF does not want its statements to be compromised by conflicted interests with food and beverage companies that make formula or foods for children.

Here’s how UNICEF will be dealing with the food and beverage interests.

This publication explains just how UNICEF intends to avoid conflicts of interest with companies making products that do not promote childrens’ health.

The practices and products of a subset of the F&B industry whose primary business is the production, distribution, marketing and retailing of ultra-processed foods and beverages (UPF) pose particular concern. The companies producing these unhealthy, nutrient-poor UPF – rich in sugar, salt, trans-fats and food additives and preservatives – are major drivers of today’s broken food system and the global epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases…It is now widely accepted that the practices and products of the UPF industry harm children’s and adolescents’ lives and have become the main commercial determinant of childhood malnutrition and disease.

Evidence shows that direct partnering with the UPF industry (i.e., working with) and voluntary UPF industry initiatives do not translate into large-scale sustainable results in transforming food systems for children. Further, direct funding engagements with UPF industry stakeholders pose a significant reputational risk to the credibility of UNICEF programming and independence as governments’ trusted advisor for policy formulation, normative guidance and programme scale-up for children and adolescents.

UNICEF says it will, among other measures (my emphasis):

  • Continue to advocate for the F&B industry not to be included in public policy making.
  • Continue avoiding all partnerships with F&B industries that violate the Code.
  • Avoid all partnerships with ultra-processed food and beverage (UPF) industries.
  • Exclude Code violators and UPF industries in UNICEF-led business platforms.
  • Engage responsibly with the F&B industry in humanitarian response.

These commitments are a major public health advance.  Let’s hope UNICEF sticks with them.

May 10 2023

PLEZi: Better for kids? Healthier?

I’ve had so many requests to comment on Michelle Obama’s new PLEZi food business—reduced sugar but ultraprocessed artificially sweetened drinks for kids—that I feel obliged to write about them, unhappy as I am as having to consider this enterprise so ill advised.

In case you missed it, the former First Lady—a public health hero of mine for her efforts to improve school food and feed kids more healthfully—announced these drinks as having 75% less sugar than Coke and Pepsi.

The press materials say PLEZi’s mission is:

to create higher standards for how the U.S. makes and markets food and beverages for kids, leading with nutrition, taste, and truth…PLEZi Nutrition was created to give parents a helping hand by offering healthier, great-tasting products that parents can feel good about giving their kids and that kids actually want. The company is focused on lowering sugar content and lowering sweetness to help adjust kids’ palates to crave less sweetness overall. In addition to reducing the sugar and sweetness, they are adding in nutrients kids need, all with the aim to replace sugary drinks and snacks.

Here’s what’s good about all this.

  • Michelle Obama is eloquent on the need for kids to eat more healthfully.
  • PLEZi is established as a benefit corporation meaning that its stockholders have agreed to have social values as part of its mission, not just profits (although those count too, evidently).
  • It has donated $1 million to Food Corps, which teaches school kids about food—a cause well worth supporting.
  • It has a distinguished “kitchen cabinet” advisory committee of people who care about kids’ health.

Why my dismay? 

Take a look at the PLEZi Blueberry Blast drink’s nutrition information and ingredient list.

This product has a lot less sugar than Coke or Pepsi and contains zero added sugars, but it has five sweeteners:

  • Apple juice concentrate (Translation: sugar derived from apples)
  • Watermelon juice concentrate (ditto from watermelons)
  • Blueberry juice concentrate (ditto from blueberries)
  • Stevia leaf extract
  • Monk fruit extract

These, plus “natural flavors” (don’t get me started) and some of the other ingredients put this squarely in the category of ultraprocessed products, now strongly associated with poor health and promotion of excessive calorie intake.

These drinks do not meet my idea of a “higher standard,” alas.

Instead, I see PLEZi as a direct competitor of existing drinks—Kraft’s Capri Sun and Kool-Aid Jammers among them—both with less sugar than Coke or Pepsi, and neither what I would consider a health food.

I found PLEZi shelved right with other sweetened drinks aimed at kids  at the Target in Ithaca, New York.

PLEZi’s cost

Target has PLEZi,on special sale at for $3.50 for 32 ounces (four 8-ounce bottles).  This makes it almost twice as expensive as Capri Sun ($3.19 for 60 ounces—ten 6-ounce pouches).

The competition

PLEZi’s nutritional profile isn’t all that different from that of “half the sugar” Capri Sun.  Here’s Capri Sun Strawberry Kiwi:

Capri Sun has the same kinds of ingredients as PLEZi, but less fruit juice, and a little more overall sugar.  To me, they don’t look all that different.

What about taste?

I bought packages of PLEZi Blueberry Blast, Orange Smash, and Capri Sun ‘s “half the sugar” Strawberry Kiwi.

OK, I  am not these products’ core customer.   They are not aimed at me.  I thought the PLEZi drinks were oddly colored and watery, and had undistinguishable flavors and the slight off-taste of monk fruit sweetener.

Capri Sun is noticably sweeter, which is not surprising: it has 7 grams of sugar in 6 ounces, whereas PLEZi has 6 grams of sugar in 8 ounces.

But all of these drinks raise the same question: Is a somewhat less sugary, sweetened, “better-for-you” drink necessarily a good choice?

Many healthier drinks are available for kids.

I would like to know:

  • Why anyone would think kids need another drink like this.
  • Why someone didn’t identify PLEZi drinks as ultraprocessed.
  • Why someone didn’t intervene to protect Mrs. Obama from getting involved in this dubious enterprise.

My business and health questions:

  • Will PLEZi sell?
  • Will it cut into sales of Kool-Aid Jammers and Capri Sun, let alone Coke and Pepsi?
  • Will it accustom kids to less sweet tastes?
  • Will it encourage kids to eat more healthfully?

I sure hope the Kitchen Cabinet insists on a serious evaluation.