Junk food advertising aimed at children is a fairly contentious area and despite regulations, some of the biggest known brands continue to repeatedly breach the rules.
Mars, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are among the biggest offenders when it comes to obeying the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI) and the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (QSRI), which all three are signatories of.
Fairfax Media reports that Mars was responsible for breaching the self-regulatory initiatives 102 times during 2014, according to the most recent Annual Compliance Report from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC).
Cancer Council NSW’s nutrition program manager, Clare Hughes, has expressed her disappointment and labelled the initiatives as "ineffective".
"There's a lack of enforcement action and certainly no sanctions and penalties for breaching the code," said Ms Hughes.
"[Mars] is a repeat offender, advertising multiple unhealthy products to children, multiple times. If the penalty is just a rap over the knuckles, there's no incentive for it to change its marketing practices."
What are the RCMI and the QSRI?
The Australian Food and Grocery Council in line with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) are involved in managing the RCMI and QSRI, which were introduced in 2009. One of the driving forces behind the initiatives was an increase in the number of consumers expressing concerns about ‘unhealthy’ foods advertised at children. Foods that are high in fat, sugar, salt and energy are chiefly targeted in the initiatives.
The key aims of these initiatives are to:
- minimize the amount of unhealthy food advertised at children
- promote healthy foods and an active lifestyle to children through advertising, and
- provide consumers with an independent avenue with which to raise concerns related to unhealthy food and advertising
Are these Initiatives Helping?
When compared with 2013, Mars actually reduced the total number of offences by almost a third. According to a report recently issued by the company, the blame for many of the most recent breaches falls to the television networks.
The company behind M&Ms and Skittles stated that it is concerned about the breaches and recognizes there are still improvements to make and will partner with both internal and external stakeholders to enhance processes and ensure compliance.”
Some of the largest global food manufacturing companies are signatories of the initiative - including McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Ferrero and Nestlé to name a few. Of all companies included in the report only four were considered fully compliant -
- Cereal Partners Worldwide (Australia)
- George Weston Foods Limited & AB Food and Beverages Australia
- Patties Foods, and
- Sanitarium Health & Wellbeing Company
However, while the low number of companies considered compliant might indicate that things are fairly grim, according to the AFGC the overall compliance rate is actually up slightly to 99.7 percent.