New Reports on Food, Alcohol and Tobacco Marketing

In the last few months, government and advocacy organizations have released new reports on the impact of tobacco marketing, inequities in how grocery chains serve low-income neighborhoods, and the alcohol industry’s compliance with its own voluntary guidelines. To help readers keep up, we summarize some of this summer’s publications and provide links to the full reports.


As elected officials, public health researchers and advocates increasingly recognize that corporate policies and practices have a major influence on health, Corporations and Health Watch readers may have trouble keeping up with the many reports on the subject. Since these reports often appear in the “gray literature” and are not centrally indexed, it’s easy to miss information that could inform research or practice.  To assist readers in this task, CHW summarizes a few recent reports; we do not review their claims or assess their methodologies.

Bloomberg M. Press Release: Mayor Bloomberg and Shaquille O’neal Announce New Food Standards For City Agencies, September 19, 2008.

On September 19th, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and NBA basketball player Shaquille O’Neal announced the launch of New York City’s new food standards designed to improve the nutritional quality of the 225 million snacks and meals served by City agencies each year. These standards make New York City the first major US city to establish nutrition standards for all food purchased or served by city agencies. The new standards cover snacks and meals served in places such as schools, senior centers, homeless shelters, child care centers, after school programs, correctional facilities, public hospitals and parks. The standards mandate City agencies to serve only healthier beverages such as skim or 1 percent milk (with exceptions for babies), phase out deep frying, include two servings of fruits and vegetables in every lunch and dinner, lower salt content and increase the amount of fiber in meals.

Blue Ribbon Commission on L.A.’s Grocery Industry and Community Health.  Feeding our Communities.  A Call for Standards for Food Access and Job Quality in Los Angeles Grocery Industry. Los Angeles, July 2008.  Available in [pdf]

The Alliance for Healthy and responsible Grocery Stores, a city-wide Los Angeles coalition of 25 community, faith-based, labor, and environmental organizations last July released “Feeding Our Communities: A Call for Standards for Food Access and Job Quality in Los Angeles’ Grocery Industry”. Based on public hearings in which residents, industry experts, academics, workers and clergy gave testimony regarding the practices of L.A.’s grocery industry, the report describes the growing disparities between the industry’s treatment of L.A.’s better off and poor communities.  The report presents evidence that LA supermarket chains ignore and mistreat the area’s low-income communities. The Alliance expects to propose citywide legislation that would establish uniform standards for grocery stores in Los Angeles, ensuring that low income neighborhoods receive more equitable treatment.

Federal Trade Commission. Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation. A Report to Congress. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission, July 2008.  Available in [pdf]

From the FTC press release on the report:
“The Federal Trade Commission today announced the results of a study on food marketing to children and adolescents. The report, Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents: A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation, finds that 44 major food and beverage marketers spent $1.6 billion to promote their products to children under 12 and adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the United States in 2006. The report finds that the landscape of food advertising to youth is dominated by integrated advertising campaigns that combine traditional media, such as television, with previously unmeasured forms of marketing, such as packaging, in-store advertising, sweepstakes, and Internet. These campaigns often involve cross-promotion with a new movie or popular television program. Analyzing this data, the report calls for all food companies “to adopt and adhere to meaningful, nutrition-based standards for marketing their products to children under 12.”

Kolish ED, Peeler CL.  Changing the Landscape of Food and Beverage Advertising: The Children’s Food and Beverage Initiative in Action.  Arlington, VA: Council of Better Business Bureaus, July 2008.  Available at:

From the Executive Summary:
During July through December 2007, the six companies scheduled to implement during this period, Campbell Soup Company, The Coca-Cola Company, the Hershey Company, Kraft Foods Global, Inc., Mars, and Unilever, successfully implemented their pledges in which they committed either to not engage in child-directed advertising or to feature only better-for-you products in child-directed advertising.

  • No child-directed advertising. Based on our review, Coca-Cola, Hershey and Mars did not engage in child-directed advertising as they had pledged.
  • Advertising only for better-for-you products. Based on our review, Kraft limited all, and Campbell and Unilever limited virtually all, of their child-directed advertising to better-for-you products as specified in their pledges.

Campbell reported, and the BBB separately observed, that during the initial start up period, it had overlooked removing, primarily on its child-directed company-owned websites, a relatively small amount of content that referenced or displayed products that do not (or did not then) meet its nutrition guidelines. These problems have been remedied. Its television advertising, which represented a substantially larger amount of its media expenditures, was otherwise compliant with its pledge.

  • The BBB found that Unilever, while otherwise fully in compliance, had overlooked removing a couple of products, out of many, from its child-directed company-owned website. It has corrected this issue.

During July through December 2007, Burger King Corp., Cadbury Adams, General Mills, Kellogg Company, McDonald’s, and PepsiCo began the process of implementing their pledges. Many of them, ahead of schedule, implemented their pledges to a significant degree by limiting or changing what they advertised to children, or by early implementation of other parts of their pledges, such as product placement commitments.

Langlois, A. and Crossley, R.    Proof of the Pudding: Benchmarking Ten of the World’s Largest Food Companies’ Response to Obesity and Related Health Concerns. New York: JP Morgan,  April 2008. Available in [pdf]

In April 2008, JP Morgan Limited released a report in which it evaluated ten major food companies against a best practice framework developed by Insight Investment and the International Business Leaders Forum ‘HEAL’ partnership, published in 2007: ‘A Recipe for Success’.

The report includes the key components of a comprehensive corporate response to consumer health and obesity challenges. All companies were initially evaluated on the basis of their public disclosure and assigned a score for the quality of reporting: sources used included annual reports, SEC filings, corporate responsibility reports or similar, websites.

Researchers offered to meet with managers of all the companies to discuss initial findings and provide a comprehensive explanation of their strategies and program. Seven companies took the opportunity to meet while Cadbury, Heinz and Kraft were not in a position to meet. Final analysis and score for performance completed on the basis of additional information provided in company meetings. Companies sent final provisional scores and offered the opportunity to review and provide additional information, which several did.

Marin Institute.  Why Big Alcohol Can’t Police Itself A Review of Advertising Self-regulation in the Distilled Spirits Industry.  Marin Institute, September 2008.  Available in [pdf]

In this September 2008 report, the Marin Institute analyzes the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) Code of Responsible Marketing Practices reports from 2004-2007. The Federal Trade Commission relies upon a system of voluntary self-regulation to ensure responsible marketing practices by the alcohol industry. This report publishes for the first time a systematic review of the DISCUS oversight process, and concludes that the process is inherently biased and consistently fails to protect the public from irresponsible advertising.

National Cancer Institute.  The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use.  NCI Tobacco Control Monograph Series. No 19.  Washington DC, National Institutes of Health, July 2008.  Available in [pdf]

src=”uploads/images/old_archives/img/clip_image012_0000.gif” alt=”Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use” hspace=”10″ vspace=”5″ width=”131″ height=”197″ align=”right” />Summarized from page vii of report:  This 684 page report is the most current and comprehensive distillation of the scientific literature on media communications in tobacco promotion and tobacco control. It synthesizes findings from the disciplines of marketing, psychology, communications, statistics, epidemiology, and public health and was compiled by five scientific editors, 23 authors, and 62 external peer reviewers. The report has six main parts. Part 1 frames the rationale for report’s organization and presents the key issues and conclusions of the research as a whole and of the individual chapters. Part 2 explores tobacco marketing—the range of media interventions used by the tobacco industry to promote its products, such as brand advertising and promotion, as well as corporate sponsorship and advertising. This section also evaluates the evidence for the influence of tobacco marketing on smoking behavior and discusses regulatory and constitutional issues related to marketing restrictions. Part 3 explores how both the tobacco control community and the tobacco industry have used news and entertainment media to advocate their positions and how such coverage relates to tobacco use and tobacco policy change. The section also appraises evidence of the influence of tobacco use in movies on youth smoking initiation. Part 4 focuses on tobacco control media interventions and the strategies, themes, and communication designs intended to prevent tobacco use or encourage cessation, including opportunities for new media interventions. This section also synthesizes evidence on the effectiveness of mass media campaigns in reducing smoking. Part 5 discusses tobacco industry efforts to diminish media interventions by the tobacco control community and to use the media to oppose state tobacco control ballot initiatives and referenda. Finally, Part 6 examines possible future directions in the use of media to promote or to control tobacco use and summarizes research needs and opportunities.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.  The Two Faces of Tesco.  Washington, D.C.: United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, June 2008. Available in [pdf]

From the press release for the report:
In June 2008, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, a US union representing 1.3 million workers in the retail food market, launched a UK campaign to expose The Two Faces of Tesco. The report examines how Tesco operates in the United Kingdom, its home base, and the United States, and compares Tesco policies and rhetoric with its practices.

At a London press launch chaired by UK Member of Parliament Jon Cruddas the union said that it is stepping up a campaign already begun in the United States to shame Tesco to talks on union recognition and employee pay and benefits.

The UFCW seeks to represent some of the lowest-paid and least secure retail workers in the USA, more than half of whom are women, and has been seeking talks with Tesco for two years since the world’s third-largest retailer announced its entry into the US grocery market. All attempts have so far fallen on deaf ears, reports the UFCWU, and Tesco launched its chain of Fresh & Easy supermarkets in 2007 as non-union stores. UFCW says that it is seeking the chance for dialogue, to build the same constructive partnership that Tesco enjoys in the UK with the shop workers’ union USDAW.