Seven food majors vow responsible advertising...

By - Divyakshi Gupta

Mumbai : Seven major food and beverage companies have signed a unique pledge committing themselves to responsible advertising and marketing to children. This is the first such self-regulatory pledge in India on the lines of the one in the European Union. According to people familiar with the development, firms that have become signatories to the pledge are Indian subsidiaries of global majors such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Kellogg, Mars International, General Mills and Hindustan Unilever. While more are expected to join in, Cadbury India is the only notable exception. The pledge provides a framework for food and beverage companies to help promote healthier dietary choices and a more active lifestyle for Indian children. Besides, it also demonstrates their commitment to social responsibility in marketing their products to kids. Consequently, the firms could stand to forego the lure of unrestricted advertising on hundreds of channels.

Plan to be implemented by Dec. 31

Sidharth Singh, VP, Packaged Foods, Hindustan Unilever, believes that the self-regulation practices adopted by the seven signatories will help further promote dietary choices and a more active lifestyle among children. According to the regulation, these companies cannot advertise food and beverage products to children below 12 on TV, print or the internet, except for products that fulfill specific nutrition criteria based on scientific evidence and dietary guidelines. For this pledge, "advertising to children under 12 years'' means advertising to media audiences where at least half are children below 12. Their pledge follows international developments in which the participating companies have made similar individual commitments on food and beverage advertising to children. This is in addition to the existing Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) code for self regulation in advertising. When contacted, ASCI chairman Dhananjay Keskar described it as a laudable move. "It will go a long way in developing the cause of ASCI,'' he said. Keskar, who is also the director of IBSl, a Pune-based business school, said there would not be any impact on advertising volumes, only the content would be different. According to market estimates, the F&B market in India is worth $300 billion of which 15% comprises the packaged F&B industry. Under the India Pledge, participating companies will make individual commitments on food and beverage advertising to children and develop and publish a company action plan which will be monitored and reviewed. The seven participating companies are also committed to implementing by Dec 31, 2010, company-specific voluntary measures on food and beverage advertising to children. The other standards include not engaging in any commercial communications related to food and beverage products in primary schools, except for products that fulfill specific nutrition criteria and where specifically requested by or agreed by the school administration for educational purposes. Besides, they will also have to commission independent compliance monitoring of the advertising commitment on TV, print media and the internet, starting Jan 2011. The other countries where similar pledges have been signed include the US, Canada, Australia, Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, Portugal and Mexico. In addition, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Union have also signed a similar pledge.