Children’s characters are set to be banned from junk food packaging in the Netherlands.
The new initiative from the country’s food industry would seek to remove licensed media characters in order to avoid targeting young children.
Popular Character Ban
Food industry representatives are keen to get rid of popular and famous characters, such as Dora the Explore and Nemo. They want to discourage unhealthy eating habits, which can be prompted from a young age when children wish to eat the food with the characters they love.
The Dutch Food Industry Federation, known as FNLI, said that the decision was made after public debates. Parties had spoken about the impact of advertising which targets children, and how this can lead to obesity later in life.
This would be the first time anything similar has been done in Europe, and it would only target foods that are deemed to be unhealthy. Packaging which starred Miffy the bunny on apple slices, for example, would not be removed under the new agreement.
The FNLI represents 450 food businesses as well as 19 organisations. The licensed characters would be removed from products which are aimed at children up to 13 years old – so television characters for young adults may not be affected.
“These products are placed on shelves at childrens’ eye level and are often unhealthy, containing too much salt, sugar or fats,” said the newspaper De Telegraaf.
The Dutch health ministry spokeswoman, Leonne Gartz, provided some clarity on which characters would be affected. Film and media tie-ins, she said, would be the ones to be cut from packaging. Other cartoon characters would still be safe.
“It does not affect characters specific to products,” she said. This would include brands which have a mascot or set of characters associated with their product – for example, the Coco Pops animals or the Frosties tiger. It’s an interesting prospect which production and manufacturing professionals in the UK may wish to observe. If it is a successful measure in fighting childhood obesity rates, there is a high chance that it will be rolled out to other countries.
The FNLI hopes to firstly implement tests, ensuring that the plan would not create unfair competition in the food market. After this, they would be aiming to implement a gradual phasing-out of licensed food products across 2017. Initial results, then, might be expected as early as 2018.
“It’s important to me that children and their parents are spared from the constant bombardment of seductive advertising on unhealthy foods,” said Martin Van Rijn, the deputy health minister in the Netherlands.
The Ethical Question
Having commercial tie-ins on food products certainly helps with food sales jobs. It’s easier to convince a shop to take on a product when the most popular characters of the year are emblazoned across the front. However, the question is not necessarily of profit, but of health.
Some brands will likely be angered at the decision, which could see them lose huge endorsement deals. This could be problematic for deals which have already been agreed upon, for example, as well as for deals on a multi-national level.
The main question that brands are going to have to ask themselves is this: is it worth getting the boost in sales from the endorsement of a licensed character? Or should brands have an ethical responsibility to market unhealthy foods to adults only? This is a debate that will no doubt begin to rage in earnest as soon as the Netherlands begins to phase this policy in across foods sold in the country.