Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 860-879)



  Q860 John Austin: Does that suggest the code is not strong enough?

  Mr Glenn: There are two things at issue here, in the internal brief it was never our suggestion or intention to breach the code that was just a sloppy use of language. We apologised once and we apologise again if it helps. The advert was approved by the ITC, as all of our adverts are, and we did not get any letters of complaint.

  Q861 John Austin: Would all of you accept that some of your marketing and some of your advertising is specifically aimed at children?

  Mr Mobsby: Yes.

  Q862 Mr Burns: I just wanted to ask Mr Glenn on pestering, is it not a fact in the real world that children pester their parents on everything, whatever they want they pester their parents? Is that not the reality of the situation and it applies as much to soft drinks and to fast food as it does to sweets, as it does to the latest toy or it does to the latest fade in the school playground?

  Mr Glenn: I think it is part of being a parent. Mr Cosslett put it over very well, it is part of life. It is also not correct in advertising to encourage constant pestering, defined as irritating demands for the product, and that is what we do not do and did not do in our advert.

  Q863 Mr Burns: I understand the code. You can have as many codes as you like or as many pieces of paper but is it not a fact of life that children rather annoyingly pester their parents constantly if they want something?

  Mr Glenn: Children are the best negotiators in life and we are conditioned as we get older not to be as good.

  Q864 John Austin: What would your reaction be to a recommendation or a suggestion that there should either be a ban or limitation on advertising during children's viewing time on television, or if there was a code similar to that which I think exists in the Netherlands which does not allow children's television personalities to be associated with products that may be advertised for children? What would your reaction be to those proposals?

  Mr Mobsby: I can start with that one, we at Kellogg's would have a serious problem with the suggestion that advertising for children are banned. There are three reasons for that, one is, I think if we are honest it would be probably be impractical and ineffective. What we do know is that children watch a lot of other media and are exposed to a lot of stimulants rather than television advertising during children's television hours. I do not think there is any real evidence that it would have any impact. If we look at Quebec and Sweden where advertising bans are in effect the incidents and the rate of obesity in children is just as high as it is else where. A second consideration, and quite honestly this one relates to commercial business, if we were to ban advertising to children on breakfast cereals, which is what the effect of that would be, we would have to think through what the consequences might be. What will children do instead, will they stop eating breakfast, which is quite possible, or reduce their consumption of breakfast, make it less frequent? Will they shift to other types of breakfast which might have higher levels of fat and low levels of other micro nutrients? I am seriously concerned if there were a ban on advertising for children as far as it pertains to our products, and I can only speak to our own product. The third point, advertising can be used as a force for good and I would encourage us to think about it in those terms. We talk about the education and the importance of getting a message across, we can start with children, obviously it also involves mothers, I would be far more interested in trying to engage in a discussion about how we get positive messages into our communications directed at children.[23]

  Q865 Mr Bradley: Can I come in on that and go back to the point about pester power. There was recently an advert for Kellogg's in Manchester, my area, for a senior consumer researcher for kids' brands. If I can read the first paragraph of the advert,—"Coco-Pops, Fruit Winders, Cereal Milk Bars and Frosties are some of the brands you need to get under your skin in this role. You will spend your time understanding kids, finding out what interests them and establishing which other brands they associate with and appreciating the realms of pester power". Do you think that is a reasonable way to promote a job in this area?

  Mr Mobsby: I do not. I think it is unfortunate that the phrase "pester power" has got into common parlance, I do not think it is helpful. I do not think it is appropriately used in that context. One of the most frequently asked questions when a mother goes shopping and the kids do not go is,—"what cereal do you want me to buy?" In relation to that we have no evidence pester power is a major issue.

  Mothers are actually more interested in knowing that the kids will actually eat the products they are going to buy, that is the bigger concern. I think that use of language is unfortunate, it should not be used in our companies.

  Q866 Dr Naysmith: You were talking about the effects of banning advertising and you said that where it had happened there was no evidence that it had any effect.

  Mr Mobsby: Yes.

  Q867 Dr Naysmith: Then you went on to say that you had worries about what might happen if advertising was banned and kids might not eat breakfast. I do not see how these two things can be reconciled, particularly the first one. If it has no effect why is the industry spending millions of pounds?

  Mr Mobsby: What is not having an effect? I do not understand your particular point.

  Q868 Dr Naysmith: The advertising of your products on television at children's viewing time.

  Mr Mobsby: I do not think I have said that advertising our products does not have any effects.

  Q869 Dr Naysmith: What you said was it had no effect in those countries it has been banned.

  Mr Mobsby: I said there had been no effect on the incidence of obesity. I am sorry if I was not clear on that point. If you look at the rising incidence of obesity, it is as high in Quebec, Canada, as it is in the rest of the Canada and it is a similar situation in Sweden.

  Q870 Dr Naysmith: If withdrawing the advertising has no effect on obesity, why does it have an effect in terms of promoting eating breakfast?

  Mr Mobsby: We do not know is the honest answer what the effect will be. We have not got examples that clearly demonstrate that. We tried to answer the question in Canada to illustrate what was going on but the information was confusing and we cannot see what actually happened, so we do not know.

  Q871 Dr Naysmith: We need to let it run for a bit longer until we can assess it.

  Mr Mobsby: Canada, Quebec, has been there for about 20 years and we are all able to read it but the information is confusing. I think what I am flagging is we need to understand what the knock-on consequences will be. When I talk about that in relation to the cereal category, which is the one that I can understand, so I know why we advertise to kids, I think we have a reasonable understanding of what it does. If we were not to have that capability I think there is a probability over time that the consumption of cereals would actually drop, the consumption of breakfast might well drop. We need to understand that because that is not necessarily a positive step forward; in fact, quite the reverse I would suggest.

  Q872 Chairman: Can I just raise one point about the issue of sports sponsorship that has been referred to. McDonald's are very heavily involved with football and Mr Glenn's company as well has links. I had the company of Bertie Bassett on Saturday evening at a rugby international, 13 aside, proper rugby. What I am interested in is these are the kinds of sports that do involve a significant number of people, not the majority of people. What about the involvement of your organisations in the sponsorship or encouragement, I should say, of things like walking and cycling which perhaps most people would gain more from than the more active sports that you are associated with?

  Mr Cosslett: This is something that our business has been trying to do recently. I could take you right back but we probably do not have the time. We have had a long history. One of the things that we did as part of our Get Active campaign, which unfortunately was not publicised, was the event days that we held for thousands of kids and their parents to come along and try new things. We had one at the NEC in Birmingham when 134,500 people turned up, 6,000 of them children. We got a lot of different activities to come along and let the children try out different sports. It was not just sports, we had dance classes, we had the Rambler's Association there, a wide range. Lots of people do not like sports, cannot do sports, but the general issue of activity is crucial. Therefore, we tried to do that within the Get Active programme but, unfortunately, as I say, we did not get the publicity we would have liked. We did it again in Wrexham in Wales two weeks later, we had another great turnout. It was a really good example of how you can actually mobilise children and their parents to get excited about activity. That was their first brush with it. I heard yesterday—this was new information to me—one lad who turned up and tried the rowing was considered by the coach there, who was running the day, to be Olympic standard. That was just a lad who turned up, which is tremendous. We do actually get some very, very positive—

  Q873 Chairman: So you have tried to do something along those lines.

  Mr Cosslett: That was one example. Going forward, one of the ways we might take our activity programme on next year is to actually look at giving people the opportunity to win prizes which will get them into these clubs and associations which will get them directly into sports and exercise of all types. We will build on that, that is one of our ideas.

  Mr Glenn: Could I add something to that?

  Q874 Chairman: Yes, of course you can.

  Mr Glenn: Two things. We are aware of those issues. We are not going to get sustained tackling of the obesity issue by sports stunts either. I think you probably saw Dr James Hill with America on the Move. That is basically lots of small steps, literally and metaphorically.

  Q875 Chairman: We were very impressed by what we saw.

  Mr Glenn: I was on the phone to him last week. He is very keen to see how it would work in Europe and he is going to come over and talk to us. That would be one of the initiatives—Mr Burstow has gone now—which the larger food and drink companies might co-operate on. I think the importance of that one is that can form part of your lifestyle. I think getting someone to play sports suddenly after years probably is not healthy, let alone practical, where do you go, etc?

  Q876 Chairman: There is a possible danger, the departure to play sport would be unusual.

  Mr Glenn: We looked at cycling because there has been quite a lot of work being done, would it not be good to get kids cycling again, but I would not touch it with a bargepole. I do not let my kids go out on the roads and cycle, I think the roads are too dangerous. As commercial businesses we cannot afford to put ourselves in harm's way either. Yes, the America on the Move thing, small changes to one's lifestyle that are sustainable, is the solution to obesity.

  Q877 Chairman: So you are actively looking at the America on the Move model?

  Mr Glenn: PepsiCo is the headline sponsor of America on the Move in the US, so through that link we have spoken to the people concerned. There is an academic at the University of Glasgow who has got a particular interest in this field who is keen to get sponsorship for doing some form of assessment study, although I am not sure you need one by the way. That kind of issue is great. It is what we are good at, we touch lots of people and it goes with the grain of how people live their lives rather than saying you have got to have a revolution in your lives, which will never work.

  Mr Mobsby: If I could add to that as well, if I may. I absolutely agree with you, it may be that the jump to competitive sport is too big an ask. You have got to bring it down to a level that is more accessible. We have got some work going with the Amateur Swimming Association involving kids, which is basically trying to get them swimming in the first place and then they can progress beyond that. We are also interested very much in walking and the Colorado on the Move and America on the Move initiatives are things that we have been associated with in the US. Without giving competitive secrets away, I hope we might soon have pedometers here in the UK courtesy of Kellogg's.

  Q878 Chairman: We are all wearing them round the table.

  Mr Mobsby: We have also commissioned, and we would be happy to share the results of this when we have got it, some research through Loughborough University on walking specifically to try and understand that particular phenomenon and how people relate to it, etc. That is something that we would be more than willing to share.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We are very proud of our community football programme. It is very big and it has won the backing of the Sports Minister. Football is very big in the UK, it is the fastest growing female sport, I understand. Obviously, as a company we need to concentrate our resources in one area and make sure that we do that well rather than try and spread ourselves too widely and too thinly. We are about to start talking to our employees about a healthy, active lifestyle. We are, in fact, organising a big three peaks challenge next year in Yorkshire and we too may have some pedometers on offer next year. I think the Chairman is absolutely right, the broader that we can spread a healthy, active lifestyle message the better. I think what may be underlying your question, if you will forgive me, is can companies play a role in communicating key government messages here, and the answer to that has to be yes.

  Q879 Dr Taylor: I think we are all delighted to hear these rumours about step counters because we are completely wedded to them and it would seem so much more sensible to put those into a packet of Kellogg's than some of the promotional toys that you do. Going back to McDonald's, with promotional toys can you see the effect of a particular series of toys on the market; is it obvious which are working?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: When we sell Happy Meals there are clearly some food and drink products that sell better than others and there are some toys that sell better than others.

23   Note by witness: Studies show body mass index of children and adults who consume breakfast cereals (including pre-sweetened ones) to be lower than those of people who skip breakfast or eat other breakfast foods. If banning advertising lead to reduced consumption of breakfast cereals (presumably the intention or why ban it? The effect might well be to increase obesity. Back

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