The International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA) has delivered an open letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO), voluntarily pledging to cease marketing unhealthy food to children by 2016. The IFBA's members include some of the world's largest food and drink companies including PepsiCo, Nestle, Kellogg and Unilever.

The restriction is based upon a set of 'better for you' nutritional criteria, and products that do not adhere to these criteria will not be marketed to children under 12. Whereas previously these criteria were only applied to TV, print and online advertising, they will now be adopted on all media types including cinema, product placement and other forms. This includes adverts surrounding licensed characters, celebrities and movie tie-ins, techniques which are primarily directed at children under 12. However, this will not apply to characters integral to a brand, such as Frosties' Tony the Tiger.

These 'better for you' criteria will be adopted in a harmonised manner across all the IFBA companies and their global operations. The criteria have previously been in effect in Europe, the US and Singapore.

The restrictions form part of a wider range of voluntary and self-imposed commitments which have been developed in partnership with the World Federation of Advertisers. These further commitments are included in the letter to the WHO and comprise the following:

  • Product formulation and innovation - a focus on increasing the health of IFBA products and promoting healthy food choices;
  • Consumer information - the adoption of consistent nutrition labelling on a global basis, which aims to provide clear, fact-based information; and
  • Promotion of healthy lifestyles - through the increased support of healthy-eating projects and research within the countries that the IFBA members operate.

The WHO is currently assessing the commitments and its response. Meanwhile, initial responses from other commentators have been mixed.

Stephan Loerke, MD of the World Federation of Advertisers has said that "the major food and beverage companies have strict controls in place on how they communicate with younger audiences," and that "this latest strengthening of the IFBA global policy demonstrates the extent to which IFBA members are taking their responsibilities seriously when it comes to marketing to children."