The government may not be able to regulate food marketing to children, but it may not have to. On the same day Michelle Obama used her position as First Lady to push companies to market healthier food to children, two companies joined the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, the industry's self-regulatory group that sets nutrition standards for marketing food to kids under 12.
Ferrero USA, a subsidiary of the global chocolate and confectionery company, which makes such products as Nutella and Tic Tac, pledged not to advertise to children under 12. The company joins other members of the CFBAI including the Coca-Cola Co., the Hershey Co., and Mars, which also do not direct ads to kids.
Cartoon Network also pledged it would not license its characters to food companies unless they meet the CFBAI's nutrition standards for marketing food to kids.
CFBAI's director Elaine Kolish, who spoke during the White House's "Convening on Food Marketing to Children," said the day was "inspiring" and "uplifting." In other words, food marketers did not get beat up the way they often do by food advocates.
"We weren't scolded. It was a request to go further," Kolish said.
About 100 attendees representing food and beverage companies, media and entertainment companies and food advocates met Wednesday in the State Dining Room to hear the First Lady's pitch "to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids."
The day was far cry from the confrontational tone two years ago when the government was locked in battle with food companies over proposed voluntary food guidelines that were eventually shot down by Congress.
In her speech, Obama marked the nation's first progress in decades to bring down childhood obesity rates, which are falling in cities in cities like New York and Philadelphia, and in states like California and Mississippi.
"But at the end of the day, if we truly want to solve this problem, we also need to get our kids to actually want to eat these healthier options," Obama said. "You guys know better than anyone how to get kids excited. You've done it before, and we need you to do it again. And fortunately you have everything it takes to get this done because through the magic of marketing and advertising, all of you, more than anyone else, have the power to shape our kids' tastes and desires."
Obama gave a strong shout-out to the CFBAI and programs like Birds Eye Vegetables, which launched a major marketing campaign featuring characters from Nickelodeon's iCarly. She also cited Disney's pledge last year to limit the use of characters to market unhealthy foods and restrict unhealthy food ads in programming.
Obama also had a few words for food advocates.
"The advocates and experts here today have an important responsibility too. Your words matter … So we need you to be constructive in your criticisms and strategic in your calls to action, because when it comes to marketing, it can be hard for companies to take risks. They face pressures from Wall Street. There are also limits to how fast they can move and how far they can go before they start losing customers. So when companies do step up and take risks, we need to be supportive, even if we think they haven't gone far enough."