NEW YORK (Reuters) - Some of America’s largest food and drink companies, including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and General Mills, promised on Wednesday to put stricter controls on advertising aimed at children under 12.
The voluntary steps varied among the 11 companies and were announced as the Federal Trade Commission held a forum to spotlight the need for more responsible food marketing to help address childhood obesity.
McDonald’s Corp. said 100 percent of its advertising primarily directed to children under 12 would further the goal of healthy dietary choices.
The Coca-Cola Company said it would not directly market any of its beverages to children under 12, although it said it had a number of drinks including water, juice, dairy and fortified beverages that would qualify for children.
PepsiCo Inc., which makes Frito-Lay snacks, Quaker Foods breakfast cereals and drinks such as Pepsi and Gatorade, will advertise only two of its products to children — Baked Cheetos Cheese Flavored Snacks and Gatorade energy drinks —and said the ads will emphasize active lifestyles.
PepsiCo said it is taking the additional step of stopping advertising its products in elementary and middle schools.
General Mills Inc., whose products include Trix cereal and Progresso soups, said it will stop advertising foods containing more than 12 grams of sugar per serving to kids under 12. The company said it will also add nutrition highlights to its cereal packaging.
“We want to be part of the solution,” said Chris Shea, a senior vice president of General Mills. “We believe that companies like ours can make a difference and can play an important role in providing lower calorie, higher nutrient products to parents and their children.”
The head of the Federal Trade Commission praised the 11 companies’ moves as “a significant step forward in industry self-regulation” and said companies involved account for two-thirds of television food ads aimed at children.
The companies responsible for the remaining one-third of the ads “should not take a ‘wait and see’ approach, but should join in this important self-regulatory effort,” FTC Chairman Deborah Majoras said in a statement.
Consumer groups praised the voluntary marketing commitments and urged more companies to do the same.
“I am pleasantly surprised by the commitments announced by food companies today,” said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It will shield the youngest of kids from the least healthful of these companies’ products on television, kids’ magazines and the Internet.”
However, Wootan and some others said media companies need to take similar action limiting the use of licensed or cartoon characters to promote low-nutrition foods.
“I would like the media industries to come forward with their own set of voluntary commitments,” said Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee.
“We haven’t heard anything from Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network, and they have a responsibility to join other socially responsible corporations in taking steps to protect children.”
Among other companies, Campbell Soup Company said it would advertise certain soups, including its Less Sodium lines, to children as “sound food choices for them,” as well as its Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Cheddar snack crackers.
Kraft Foods Inc. specified Post cereals, Kool-Aid beverages and Nabisco cookies and crackers among its brands with “child-directed ad campaigns,” which it said would now be based on nutrition criteria.
Kellogg Company said its pledge covered ready-to-eat cereals, Pop-Tarts, snack lines and Eggo frozen breakfast products. Unilever Plc said its Skippy and Popsicle products were its current brands covered by the pledge.
Also taking pledges were candy and snack makers Hershey Co., Mars, Inc. and Cadbury Adams, which said it would no longer advertise Bubblicious to children under 12.
The food companies' pledges were posted on the Council of Better Business Bureaus Web site here .
Reporting by Lilla Zuill and Julie Vorman