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FOOD INDUSTRY BRACES FOR TWO-DAY FTC HEARING

Trade Group and Critics Announce Preemptive Marketing Strategies

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -– On the eve of the start of a two-day federal workshop examining childhood obesity and the impact of marketing food to children, marketers, consumer group and media outlets proposed initiatives and guidelines as each looks to be "part of the solution," in the words of one industry lobbying group.
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All the talk comes in anticipation of a two-day forum beginning tomorrow that is sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services. The forum will look into the impact of marketing children’s foods on increasing rates of childhood obesity.

Some early proposals
The Grocery Manufacturers Association announced it wants to end any product placement in children's shows and called for new industry ad guidelines for food pertaining to video games, the Web and "advergaming," or the placement of advertising in video games. Meanwhile, a consumer group called for new soda labeling, and children's cable TV network Nickelodeon announced a licensing deal for one of its animated characters, SpongeBob SquarePants, to promote fruits and vegetables.

A number of package goods executives are slated to discuss initiatives to make food healthier, but today the GMA announced an initiative it said was backed by eight industry giants: Kraft Foods, General Mills, Hershey, PepsiCo, Campbell Soup, Nestle, Sarah Lee and Unilever.

Besides ending any product placement in children's shows, the GMA said the companies want the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus to step up its visibility and to establish new limits on product placement in video games and do more pre-reviews of ads aimed at children.

“We want to be part of the solution,” GMA executives said.

Little product placement
While broad in scope, the GMA proposal’s impact was less clear. There appears to be little product placement in children's programming, shows; CARU already pre-reviews ads when asked; and CARU began developing advergaming guidelines in May.

“I don’t know of any [product placement in kids shows],” said CARU's director, Elizabeth Lascoutx. “We’ve had no complaints. I don’t know it exists.”

The soft-drink changes urged by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, call for health warnings on soda containers that suggest the drinks lead to an increase in childhood obesity.

SpongeBob and veggies
Nickelodeon, which has been under the gun because of food ads in its programming, announced it signed a deal with Grimmway Farms to use SpongeBob SquarePants and other Nickelodeon characters on vegetable packaging aimed at children.

The Viacom-owned cable network is again expected to be a target in remarks tomorrow from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who has been an outspoken critic of the food industry's marketing practices.

The initiatives today came as several groups critical of food marketers, including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, called the workshop this week a "public relations exercise for the food and advertising industries” and suggested marketers had “hijacked” the workshop from its original purpose of looking at limits on advertising and marketing.

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