Kraft plays on health fears with product revamp

Related tags Kraft foods Nutrition

Kraft Foods, the US prepared foods giant, has unveiled a package of
measures designed to curb the growing levels of obesity. But is it
just another example of the food industry cynically playing on
consumers' health fears to increase sales?

Leading branded food manufacturer Kraft Foods has unveiled a series of steps designed to help reduce rising obesity rates. But is it just a marketing stunt?

The measures to be introduced by Kraft include a cap on the portion size of single-serve packages and nutrition labelling in all markets, including where it is not required. There will also be an effort to improve existing products and provide alternative choices where appropriate, said Kraft.

Betsy D. Holden, co-CEO of Kraft Foods​, said: "Just as obesity has many causes, it can be solved only if all sectors of society do their part to help."

The company is also forming a council of advisors, made up of experts in obesity, nutrition, public health and nutrient fortification, to help it develop policies and measures for the new strategy, which will be rolled out globally.

The council, to be decided shortly, will determine the levels at which the portion size of its single-serve packages will be capped, develop measures to guide the nutrient characteristics of all products and create a standardised approach for nutrition labelling and the use of health-related claims in countries where such regulations do not exist.

Kraft has also promised to eliminate all in-school marketing and establish guidelines for advertising practices, including advertising and marketing to children, to encourage appropriate eating behaviour. Added nutrition information on product labels and company websites will improve consumer choices, it says.

"What people eat is ultimately a matter of personal choice, but we can help make it an educated choice,"​ said Roger K. Deromedi, co-CEO of Kraft Foods. "By providing people with products and information they can use to improve their eating and activity behaviours, we can do our part to help arrest the rise in obesity."

The company, which markets many of the world's leading food brands including Maxwell House coffee, Nabisco biscuits, Milka chocolate and Philadelphia cream cheese, is aiming to finish the new standards by end of 2003, for implementation in 2004. This is expected to require two to three years to complete, it said.

But is Kraft's move a genuine attempt to try and combat a problem which it - among many other companies - is partially to blame for? The food industry has long been criticised for placing profits over people's health, and some of the most popular brands and products are often the ones which have the most fattening ingredients.

Of course, the food industry is not entirely culpable - after all, consumers have a choice in what they eat - but the cynical observer might suggest that Kraft is being very astute in launching this programme at a time when obesity is almost reaching epidemic proportions in the US.

After all, its brands are already among the most well known in the US market, but sales are likely to grow even faster if the company can convince consumers that its products are somehow better for them.

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