Yeah, yeah. I realize that’s a very clickbait-y headline. Usually I try to write a step above Upworthy and BuzzFeed, but in this case, there’s no hyperbole. That headline is 100% true, as reported in a recent study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
Here’s the backstory: The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) was formed in 2006 as a self-regulating strategy for advertisers. Companies figured that rather than have some outside entity make them follow a set of rules about how to market to kids, the companies themselves would come up with some guidelines of their own, join the CFBAI and pledge to stick to those guidelines. Kraft Foods Group signed on to the CFBAI in 2006, agreeing that only Kraft products meeting a set of minimal nutritional standards would be advertised to children less than 12 years old. So far, so good, right?
Not quite. As of April 2013, Kraft produced 42 varieties of Lunchables, but only five met minimal standards for fat, saturated fat, calories and sodium. And in the year prior, it seems, Kraft went all in on marketing those five varieties to kids, spending over $27 million on Lunchables advertising alone, with television ads reaching kids between 6-11 once a week on average – that’s five times more frequently than adults, who are ostensibly the ones buying groceries in the first place.
There are also three other points which at first seem minor, but given an ounce of thought, can easily be seen as harmful:
1. In at least one case, a variety of Lunchables was reformulated so that it no longer met Kraft’s nutritional standards, and had to be removed from the list of Lunchables that Kraft could advertise. But kids and parents didn’t necessarily know that. They’d already seen the ads touting the product as a healthier option, and the new packaging probably didn’t include a banner stating that the variety now had more calories, fat and sodium than ever before.
2. In 2013, Kraft introduced its new UPLOADED line of Lunchables, which have more calories and fat than other varieties, but for a time failed to separate online advertising for UPLOADED products from its other “healthy” Lunchables.
3. The Rudd researchers also found that the Lunchables meeting Kraft’s nutritional guidelines were more likely to be placed on the top shelves at grocery stores, making them virtually invisible to kids. Although CFBAI doesn’t say anything about how marketers can advertise in stores, one would think that if Kraft were truly committed to ethical marketing and promoting healthy choices to kids, it might be more proactive.
This woeful tale of Lunchables goes to show why it’s so important for kids as well as adults to be media literate. They should know, on a basic level, how they are being targeted, and they should know to ask questions about things like token green checkmarks and proclamations that something is nutritious. Adults should definitely be aware of how the big food marketing world works, and what means for their kids – not to mention themselves.
(Full report here)