PepsiCo, one of the world's largest makers of soft drinks and snack foods, has introduced voluntary restrictions on its advertising to children, in response to rising levels of obesity in the United States and western Europe.
The company, responsible for brands such as Pepsi-Cola and Doritos chips has also placed limits on the portion sizes of products sold in U.S. schools.
The measures are the latest in a series of efforts by food and drink producers to prove they can be trusted to regulate themselves, amid mounting pressure on governments to curb obesity.
The European Commission has threatened to outlaw advertising of food and drink to children if the industry does not change its behavior and the UK government is considering red warning labels on fattening products.
PepsiCo executives and officials told the Financial Times that the company was no longer advertising its flagship cola to children under 12 or its Cheetos chips brand to children under eight. The policy has been in place for several months but the company decided against announcing it publicly in contrast to Kraft, another U.S. food group that grabbed headlines in January by saying it would reduce its advertising to children.
"Our intent is not to just beat our chests and try to take credit for what we're doing," said Irene Rosenfeld, the chief executive of Frito-Lay North America, PepsiCo's snacks unit. "We're just quietly doing it because it's the right thing to do."
She said the company had replaced its fried Cheetos with a lower-fat baked alternative in elementary schools and limited serving sizes for all snacks to 150 calories, rising to 300 calories in middle schools. But critics say food and drinks companies can still target children via indirect marketing, such as endorsements by sports or pop stars and product placement in films and TV.
In a series of interviews, PepsiCo executives rejected calls for a blanket ban on advertising to children, arguing it would reduce the industry's ability to help tackle obesity by promoting healthy products and lifestyles.
"We don't think banning things is the right way to go because that removes a channel through which we can be part of the solution," said Steve Reinemund, chairman and chief executive. Indeed, Frito-Lay said it would be increasing its overall advertising to young people through the promotion of its healthier products category, known as "Smart Spot".
Mike White, chief executive of PepsiCo's international division, said the most effective ways to reduce childhood obesity were to reduce time spent by children in front of TVs and computer screens and provide them with more opportunities for exercise.
Andrew Ward and Jeremy Grant, Financial Times. March 2, 2005
Copyright © The Financial Times Ltd 2005. All rights reserved.