In May 2003, Kraft Foods, the number one food company in the US and the world’s second largest food company, saw one of its most popular products under attack. A lawsuit filed against the company claimed that its Oreo cookies contained trans fatty acids. 3 The lawsuit alleged that Kraft Foods used hydrogenated vegetable oil in these cookies, which was detrimental to the health of consumers in the long run. Citing the possible health hazards, the lawsuit demanded a ban on the marketing and selling of Oreo cookies to children in California.
Stephen Joseph (Joseph), the lawyer who filed the lawsuit in the general public’s interest, also claimed that Kraft Foods did not even list the amount of trans fatty acids present in Oreo cookies on its pack. However, Kraft Foods had a different version of the story. Vice-President (Corporate Affairs) Michael Mudd (Mudd) said that the company had approached the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) twice regarding permission for the inclusion of details about fats that were often connected with high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease, on its products’ labels.
However, the FDA had not yet passed any such ruling and hence, the company was waiting for the same in May 2003. With criticism against junk/fast/snack food companies for jeopardizing consumers’ health at an all time high in the US, the lawsuit was indeed unsettling for Kraft Foods. KRAFT FOODS INC. Kraft Foods Inc. , incorporated in 2000, is a leading manufacturer and marketer of packaged food products. Leading global tobacco giant Altria, formerly known as Philip Morris, owns 84% of Kraft Foods.
The company in its 21st century form has been formed by the integration of many popular food brands and companies, some of them dating back to the mid-1700s (Refer Exhibit I for a brief history of Kraft Foods). In the early 21st century, Kraft Foods was the second leading food and beverage company in the world (behind the Swiss FMCG major Nestle)… JUNK FOODS The term ‘Junk food’ refers to food products that are high in calories, score high on the taste parameter and are low in nutritional value. They contain high levels of sugar, fats, sodium and chemicals, all of which cause ealth hazards if consumed in larger volumes. Junk foods include snack foods (cakes, candy, chips, cookies, ice cream and sweets), convenience foods (frozen pizza, hot dogs, meat alternatives, meat snacks, macaroni and cheese dinners) and beverages such as soda and coffee.
Many fast foods4 items such as french fries, fried chicken, hamburgers and tacos are also regarded as junk food (the term ‘junk food’ is hereafter used to refer to junk/snack/fast foods in the case). In all these food products, the amount of calories, fats, sodium and chemicals are disproportionate to their nutritional value… | AMERICA AND JUNK FOOD The consumption of junk foods has increased constantly in North America since the mid 20th century. Many factors contributed to this trend – a booming economy, an increase in the standard of living and a decrease in the time available for food preparation on account of job pressures. Apart from this, the new food types offered by food companies, backed by cleverly-crafted promotional campaigns, added an element of fun to eating. Gradually, junk foods became a popular option for customers who did not have time for cooking…
IMPACT ON AMERICAN SOCIETY. The junk food culture soon took its toll on Americans. By the early 21st century, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC, US) more than 60% of adults in America were overweight and 20% of the total Americans were considered obese,5 as compared to 12% in the early 1990s. In urban areas, the number of obese adults was 25%. Health specialists and various other public welfare organizations had long been warning people of the problems of obesity and advising them to take part in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day.
However, not many Americans followed a health regime, due to their packed work schedules… | | Kraft Shares the Blame Kraft Foods’ product portfolio comprised hundreds of products in various segments that could be classified as junk food (such as beverages, snacks, grocery, convenience foods and cheese). Most of its product categories (such as frozen treats and pizzas; hot dogs; meat snacks; cheese products; enhancers; desserts; snack foods such as sugar confectionaries, cookies, biscuits; and ice creams) contained ingredients that qualified them as junk food.
Considering that over 99% of households in the US used Kraft Foods products, analysts felt that the company could significantly influence the health of its consumers. Like most other food companies, most Kraft Foods advertisements targeted children. One of the company’s advertisements for Oreo cookies had met with a lot of opposition. This advertisement was criticized for being too sedentary, since it showed a group of inactive youngsters enjoying Oreo cookies… | | Kraft Foods – Anti-Obesity Initiatives In early July 2003, Kraft Foods announced a new set of initiatives to address the problem of obesity.
The anti-obesity initiatives of Kraft Foods focused on four key areas – Product Nutrition, Marketing Practices, Consumer Information, and Public Outreach and Dialogue (Refer Table I for details of these initiatives). As part of its anti-obesity initiatives, Kraft Foods formed a global advisory council with experts from various disciplines such as nutrition, human behavior, obesity, public health, physical activity, and lifestyle education and intervention programs. The advisory council was given the task of reviewing the company’s product profile and recommending changes in line with the initiatives.
The council was also expected to help the company develop policies related to its anti-obesity drive, and set standards and timetables for the implementation of the same. The main functions of the advisory council included determining the levels at which the portion size of Kraft Foods’ single-serve packages should be capped; setting guidelines for nutrient characteristics for all products;… Towards A Healthy Future? Though no other food company came up with as comprehensive a set of anti-obesity initiatives as Kraft Foods, many did make some positive moves in this direction.
In mid-2003, McDonald’s announced that it would switch to healthier cooking oils to cut the percentage of trans fatty acids in its products. Wendy’s, another leading US fast food chain, introduced a new range of salads which were served with packets of optional ingredients to allow customers to choose the amount of fat and calories they wanted. McCain Foods (Florenceville, N. B. ), a producer of french fries, announced that it had stopped using hydrogenated oils in its products and switched to non-hydrogenated oils that contained less trans fatty acids.
McDonald’s announced that it would test a Happy Meal scheme that would allow customers to choose between french fries and apple slices. | | Kellogg’s, another leading food company, announced plans to introduce a range of vegetarian foods and natural cereals. While it was commendable on the part of food companies to make these changes, was it really their responsibility to deal with the obesity crisis, to encourage healthy eating habits, and to educate customers about the health hazards involved in consuming their products?
The controversy still lingered. Most health professionals across the world seemed to be sure of the role of food companies in the obesity crisis. According to Margo Wootan (Wootan), Director, Nutrition Policy, Center for Science in the Public Interest, “One would have to be a complete ostrich to believe that fast-food makers have no culpability in the obesity epidemic. ” Wootan argued that the practice of offering large portions (super-size meals) was playing a major role in increasing the child obesity rate in the US..