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Healthy food and the World Cup of missed opportunity

12-Jun-2006

Beer, bakery, confectionery, sweet drinks, pizzas, snacks galore, and even dog food. The list of products with World Cup tie-ins is dominated by junk food, while healthy food makers seem content to pass up the marketing opportunities and let others grow fat on the rewards.

In Mintel's Global New Products Database , the healthy products drawing on the football World Cup to boost sales are few and far between: Nestle has pitched in with a handful of breakfast cereals, yoghurt and milk make one appearance each - and there's not a dietary supplement in sight.

Even the Mintel analyst was surprised that the only energy-drink that saw fit to board the bandwagon was Powerade, with a new mango-flavoured version in Germany.

What is more, the food and drink companies amongst FIFA's official sponsors are hardly well known for products that promote a healthy lifestyle: McDonalds, Budweiser and Coca Cola.

And yet the World Cup is a sporting festival, a celebration of stamina, skill and athleticism.

Or is it?

There's no debate that better health is a product of a balanced diet and plenty of exercise. But the World Cup message is 'we the sportsmen, you the spectators'. While the players are fed carefully balanced diets prepared by nutrition experts, it seems it is ok for their fans to subsist on Big Macs, fries and beer, beer and more beer.

For anyone who is not chasing up and down a pitch for 90 minutes at a time, it is a festival of pure consumption.

Indeed, instead of encouraging inclusion, research from the University of Sussex has indicated that watching all those fit young bucks exerting themselves can make some ordinary chaps feel a touch inadequate. And to bolster their self-esteem they don't go for a 5-mile run, but engage in other hard-man activities like downing beer by the six-pack.

It's not an attitude that just afflicts the sedentary. One member of Decision News Media's editorial team (who is no couch potato by anyone's standards) proudly declared on Friday that he expects to put on 'at least three stone' through beer guzzling over the next month.

Sorry guys, repeatedly lifting your right arm from table to mouth is never going to burn off the same calories as chasing up and down the pitch for 90 minutes.

But hang on a minute. Aren't many of football's most dedicated fans the very same souls who, for the other 47 months out of four years do spend their weekends chasing up and down pitches? Even if its just a kick-about in the park, they could very well want to know about foods and nutrients that could help them maximise their performance.

So why isn't the food industry telling them, when it has them as a captive audience?

This year, as in previous years, no-one has been bold enough to challenge the powerful association between beer and junk food and watching football. People who might otherwise settle down of an evening with a glass of wine - or even a glass of milk - instinctively reach for a cold one when the footie comes on the telly.

The beer and junk-food brigade has successfully cornered the football-spectating market. But it's a culture that is at odds with the over-riding wave towards healthier lifestyles and curbing the obesity crisis - amongst men as well as women.

Far be it from me to be a kill-joy. I am not advocating the replacement of beer stands and burger stalls with muesli-sellers and juice bars. But there is room for healthy foods to co-exist in the football arena, and the time is ripe for marketing innovation in that direction.

Challenging an ingrained beer-football watching tradition might seem like a megalithic undertaking, but it is one that would be a whole lot easier with FIFA on side.

In failing to encourage healthy marketing around the World Cup, FIFA - an organisation supposedly dedicated to the promotion of sport - is promulgating an irresponsible message.

A start might be to take a leaf out of the Olympics' book. Far fewer people sit down to watch athletics with a beer and a bag of chips, and sports nutrition is already being tipped for major gains around the Beijing games.

So come on, let's stop standing around on the sidelines letting junk food slope off with the prizes. There's still time to get it together before Euro 2008.

Jess Halliday is editor of award-winning website NutraIngredients.com and NutraIngredients-USA.com. Over the past decade she has worked in print, broadcast and online media in both Europe and the United States.

If you would like to comment on this article, please contact Jess Halliday .

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