Consumer standpoint: How should confectioners address health concerns?

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers group cites marketing to kids as main health concern for Europe’s confectionery market amid rising obesity rates. iStock - Yelet
Consumers group cites marketing to kids as main health concern for Europe’s confectionery market amid rising obesity rates. iStock - Yelet

Related tags Nutrition European union Eu

Restricting marketing to children is the primary health action EU consumers expect from the confectionery sector, according to consumer group BEUC.

Speaking at European confectionery & biscuit association CAOBISCO’s annual meeting, Pauline Castres, food policy officer for The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) said: "We believe the main issue [for confectionery] should be restricting marketing to children."

"For children, we all agree it would be very sad to grow up without being able to eat candies and chocolate. Eating sweets once in a while is fine, but we know this is not always the case,” ​she said at the event moderated by ConfectioneryNews.

CAOBISCO’s annual meeting​ in Brussels on June 9 brought together industry players such as Nestlé, Ferrero and Mondelēz with academics and European Commission representatives to discuss the EU confectionery sector’s role in the health debate.

Emergency measure on obesity

According to the World Health Organization, one in three European children is overweight or obese, while intakes of added sugar, salt and saturated fat are far above dietary recommendations.

"I'm, sure you've all seen headlines about the Zica virus or Ebola, but when it comes to obesity, we hear about it, but we do not see any emergency measures,” ​said Castres. “We think this is something that should be considered,”​ she said.

Impact of advertising

BEUC is calling for reduced intakes of added sugar, salt and saturated fats as well as increased intakes of fruit vegetables, nuts and healthy proteins.

"For your products ​[confectionery], the first thing to do is restrict marketing and that's easy. Marketing is black and white and it will make a huge difference,” ​said Castres.

According to the American Psychological Association​, children’s exposure to TV ads promoting unhealthy foods is a “significant risk factor”​ for obesity.

It reports higher intakes of overall calories, fast-food and sugared beverages for every one-hour increase in TV viewing per day for very young children.

If marketing to kids reflected what they actually ate, children would be consuming 52.3% of fast-food & convenience meals and 28.5% of treats and snacks, according to a publication in Fédération romande des consommateurs.

In 2010, CAOBISCO recommended its members join the EU pledge​ – an initiative by 22 food companies to ban advertising to children under 12.

Mars, Mondelēz, Nestlé and Ferrero have all committed to the pledge.

EU pledge

Limitations to EU pledge?

"It was great to have this EU pledge initiative, but it has some limitations,”​ said BEUC’s Castres.

“We still see children are bombarded with messages encouraging them to eat unhealthy foods,” she​ continued, pointing to some examples of confections and biscuits with on-pack cartoon characters during her presentation.

“We think the industry should be part of the debate, but governments should be the ones to set the goals,”​ she added.

EU Pledge member companies account for around 80% of food and beverage advertising spend in the EU, but the initiative is only voluntary.

Kids marketing policies for top EU Confectioners


Ferrero has committed to the EU pledge and says it does not advertise any of its products to children under 12 in EU member states. The Italian confectioner says sponsorship of sports in schools programs can be beneficial. It says it does not carry out communications on its products in primary schools, except when requested or agreed with the school administration for educational purposes.


Mars says it is one of the few companies not to advertise to children under 12 at all. It is part of the EU pledge and has had its own global advertising code​ since 2007. 97.4% of its TV advertising in 2015 was complaint with the 25% audience threshold under the EU pledge.


Mondelēz says it “does not believe” ​in marketing directly to children under 12. The company, which is part of the EU pledge, says its direct adverting is targeted at “gatekeepers” – namely parents and guardians - as well as those aged over 12. The Oreo and Cadbury maker restricts promotional tie-ins with licensed characters to movies rated PG and above for products that don’t match a specific nutrition criteria. It has banned any advertising or commercial messaging in schools, both primary and secondary.


Nestlé recently updated its Marketing Communication to Children Policy​ and says it applies the EU pledge as a minimum.  The KitKat producer says it prohibits direct marketing to children under six and direct marketing to those aged six to 12 can only be with products that meet the EU pledge nutrition criteria or Nestlé’s Nutritional Foundation status. But even when the criteria are met, it still bans direct marketing of biscuits, sugar confectionery and chocolate confectionery to children.

What about reformulation?

Castres acknowledged it was tough to reformulate confections. "Sweets will remain sweet,” ​she said. “There is only a limited margin of maneuver [on reformulation]. But if there is, please do it.”

"The main focus when we talk about reformulation should be all these products that look healthy - whether it's breakfast cereals, muesli or some sandwiches - that actually are not healthy,” ​she continued.

Product composition – which includes reformulation -  is one of CAOBISCO’s five ‘Menu of Options’​ for its members to engage in nutrition and health under the trade body’s position paper published in February

Members are expected to implement at least one of the options.

Tighter regulations incoming?

The UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is currently consulting​ on introducing an outright ban on advertising foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), extending existing rules to non-broadcast media such as online platforms.

While some members have reformulated products, portion size control is the favored option by many top companies.

True to life portions

Castres welcomed CAOBISCO’s menu of option to reduce and control confectionery portion sizes, but said the smaller sizes should also be "affordable".

"What we see unfortunately is sometimes the smaller versions are two times more expensive than the other version and we know that low-income families cannot afford these kinds of luxuries,”​ she said.

Castres added that serving sizes on labels should reflect what consumers actually eat.

“When we see for breakfast cereals 30g ​[serving size], 45g-60g is more accurate, so it's not very reliable,” ​she said.

BEUC pushes for mandatory added sugars labels in EU

BEUC has welcomed EU legislation ‘Food information to consumers’​ (FIC), which obligates companies to provide nutrition information from 13 December 2016. 

"But one thing that is clearly missing for us is added sugars labeling, which is on its way in the US,” ​said Castres.

"This kind of labeling would not be a problem for you ​[confectioners]. It's more for other categories…. Consumers will not be shocked to eat some sugar in a chocolate, but they might be surprised to see it in their very healthy muesli or their supposedly healthy cereal bars with lots of sugar,”​ said the BEUC food policy officer.

In the US, Mars Chocolate North America supported the addition of added sugar labeling, but the National Confectioners Association had advocated for further scientific evidence before further changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel. [See HERE​ for more info].

BEUC favors a traffic light labeling system across the EU. Castres said traffic light labels were never going to end obesity alone, but said it might help consumers easily see high levels of sugar and saturated fat in products that purport to be healthy.

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