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A pledge that smells like propaganda

health and fitness Updated: Aug 21, 2010 21:46 IST
Hindustan Times
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Seven processed food giants signed a pledge in July to be more responsible in their advertising: they would not advertise their products to children under 12 on TV, in print and online.

Since these seven companies were the Indian arms of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg, Nestlé, Mars, Hindustan Unilever and General Mills, the impact was expected to be considerable.

Then came the reality check.

The pledge was conditional: the companies will continue to advertise products that “fulfill specific nutrition criteria based on scientific evidence and/or national and international dietary guidelines,” said Dhananjay Keskar, chairman of the Advertising Standards Council of India, a non-statutory body set up by the advertising industry.

This means that Kellogg will continue to advertise its Chocos cereal to children under 12, since the cereal fulfills the company’s “nutritient criteria”. But a consumer forum has found that the cereal has more than acceptable levels of sugar. (See box on the far right, ‘Cereal Trouble’). Hindustan Unilever said it would not advertise foods that did not fulfill its own nutritional criteria, while Mars said it would not target children under 12.

But Preeti Shah, senior director of the Ahmedabad-based, Consumer Education and Research Centre, says the pledge will make no difference. “The companies are using it to earn goodwill. It is part of propaganda.”

Fast food growing fast

India’s fast food market is growing by 30 to 35 per cent a year, says a July report of RNCOS, a market research firm. It says fast food chains plan to expand rapidly in India: Domino’s Pizza plans to open 60 outlets a year by 2012 and Yum! Brands, which owns Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken, plans to open 1,000 outlets by 2015.