Industry Leaders Adopt Stricter Standards for Foods Advertised to Kids

Industry Leaders Adopt Stricter Standards for Foods Advertised to Kids

December 12, 2018
Annette Maggi
Retail Industry Insights

By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

There are 18 companies that self-regulate foods advertised to kids age 12 and younger through participation in the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.  These include Burger King, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Conagra Brands, General Mills, McDonalds, Post Foods, Unilever USA and a host of other companies.  Earlier this fall, the group agreed to stricter criteria on foods advertised to kids, which go into effect on January 1, 2020 to align with the implementation date of the Nutrition Facts Panel changes.  The changes align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 and the updated nutrition label.

In the new standards, added sugar replaces total sugar as added sugars will be required on the Nutrition Facts Panel starting in 2020.  The revised criteria for cereal, for example, decreases added sugar by 10% per ounce.  Savory snacks in the new criteria are only allowed 4 grams added sugar in the new guidelines compared to the 10 grams currently allowed while sweet snacks drop from 10 to 9 grams added sugar.  

Sodium guidelines are also revised in the new program criteria, with special focus on food categories the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified as top sodium sources.  The sodium allowed in bread advertised to kids has been decreased by 14%, for example, cheese sees a 17% reduction in allowed sodium.

Because the presence of positive nutrients is just as important as the absence of negative nutrients, the standards have adopted new positions on beneficial nutrients.  Currently, a product that contributes a half-serving of whole grains qualifies, but under the new criteria, a product must also list whole grain as the first ingredient and be 50% whole grains by weight. 

Full details on the revised criteria are available here ( Estimates suggest 40% of the products currently allowed for advertising to kids under this voluntary industry program will be disqualified with the revised criteria.  Industry experts also suggest the new criteria will drive product reformulation.

Retailers that offer programming specific to kids, such as shelf tags, store tours, classes and social media messaging may want to consider using the revised criteria to evaluate products that are included in these services.