Food and drink giants seek to improve public image

Wednesday 18 June 2014 15.46
Nestle's chief executive said the industry needed to show it was responsive and responsible
Nestle's chief executive said the industry needed to show it was responsive and responsible

The world's top food and drink companies have agreed new measures to try to improve the industry's image at a summit in Paris.

The Consumer Goods Forum, an industry network of retailers, manufacturers and other players with combined sales of €2.5 trillion, have pledged to stop advertising junk food to children, harmonise nutritional labelling and fight deforestation.

"It is not business as usual anymore. Pressure is mounting from all sides and angles," Paul Bulcke, chief executive of Nestle, the world's biggest food and drink firm behind brands such as Kit-Kat and Nescafe, told the meeting.

"We need to show them we are a responsive and responsible industry, now more than ever."

Food manufacturers and retailers have come under mounting pressure in recent years over their role in a range of issues from the global obesity epidemic, to climate change and deforestation due to the growth of palm oil production.

The steps announced included a commitment to stop targeting advertising to children under 12 years by 2018 of products that fail to meet certain nutrition criteria and to introduce industry-wide labelling by 2018 to help consumers make healthier food choices.

Mr Bulcke said the CGF board also agreed that members would make company policies on nutrition and product formulation public by 2016.

The CGF promised its members would aim for zero net deforestation by 2020 through the more sustainable sourcing of key commodities and begin phasing out hydrofluorocarbons, blamed for contributing to global warming, in new refrigeration units by 2015.

In 2011, top US food and drink makers including Coca-Cola and Kellogg agreed to industry-created voluntary nutrition guidelines for products marketed towards children under the age of 12. 

But the food, beverage and restaurant industries as a whole have successfully fought most government oversight on food advertising to children.

In October 2013, US legislation was proposed that would require uniform front-of-package food labels in a move to streamline labels and clarify certain claims on nutrition.

In Europe, regulations that go into effect in December 2014 change existing legislation on food labelling that would require nutrition information on processed foods, origin labelling of unprocessed meat, the highlighting of allergens such as peanuts and better legibility.