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What is the Licensing Industry’s Appetite for Nutritional Guidelines? image

What is the Licensing Industry’s Appetite for Nutritional Guidelines?

By Mark Seavy

When it comes to food and beverage products for children, nutritional guidelines and marketing regulations abound. And while consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies avoid marketing sugary foods directly to children through TV advertising, as required by law across many regions, that doesn’t mean other strategies aren’t being employed.

For example, there’s a nostalgic play to be made to their parents via licensed brands and characters. And the U.S. Federal Trade Commission released findings in 2008 and again in 2012 reporting that, while CPG companies were spending less on TV advertisements aimed at children, they increased spending to market to them via online, mobile, and other means.

“There is no steadfast rule on marketing to kids that exists across all of the CPGs, including candy, cookies, crackers and other products,” said one licensing agency executive. “The CPG companies make up their own rules internally as far as how they are comfortable executing outbound licensing for their brands, and what products and age demographics they are comfortable participating in.”

This comes despite ongoing efforts to set guidelines, many of which are self-regulatory, to promote healthier food choices for children.

During President Obama’s administration, for example, there was a concerted effort to set nutritional guidelines in the U.S. These were championed by the likes of Disney, Sesame Workshop, Kellogg’s, and General Mills. In recent years, however, there has also been a trend of snack brands expanding into the cereal aisle.

In just the past few years, a number of sugary cereal featuring licensed brands have found prime placement both online and in retail stores. General Mills sells Kit Kat cereal, which touts 14 grams of whole grains, and Reese’s Puffs. Post Holdings, which at one point also had cereal featuring Hostess’ Twinkies and Donnette’s brands, has a new version with Mondelez’s Oreo O’s brand. Kellogg’s has cereal with J&J Snack Food’s ICEE, Wendy’s Frosty, and McKee Foods’ Little Debbie Swiss Rolls brands. Additionally, Nabisco’s 12-pack boxes of Oreo Minis featuring Nintendo’s Mario Bros. and Keebler’s Chips Deluxe cookies with M&Ms can be found in the snack aisle.

However, many IP owners set requirements for licensees to avoid their brands being connected to indulgent snacks and foods.

“The biggest sensitivity is who these products are marketed to and, clearly, that has to be adults,” said a licensing executive. “Many of the IP owners don’t seem to have loosened where you put their characters and they continue to have many of them positioned as a healthier, better-for-you option in the food aisle.”

For example, WK Kellogg Co. launched a plant-based Eat Your Mouth Off vegan cereal that contains 22 grams of plant-based proteins and no sugar, but also has 170 calories per serving. And Sesame Workshop signed a licensing deal with Just Salad last fall for the fast-casual chain’s first kids menu aimed at four- to 12-year-olds. Sesame has long been a leader in this area, and was involved early on with the “Healthy Habits for Life” initiative, which launched in 2006 with Haines Celestial Group’s Earth Best brand. And General Mills fielded an 18-ounce box of cereal featuring Sesame Workshop’s Elmo that, while it contains vitamins D and E, fiber, and calcium, also has 140 calories per serving. The agreement with General Mills has since expired.  Sesame Workshop has an on-going partnership with Earth Best as well as a separate agreement with vegan cookie maker Partake Foods that was signed in 2022.

In addition to a number of new plant-based offerings, there has been a recent push by CPG and beverage companies to reduce sodium levels.

PepsiCo is set to cut sodium levels for its products by 15-30%, depending on the category, by 2030. PepsiCo’s Lay’s Classic Potato Chips, for example, will reduce sodium by 15% to 140 milligrams per 20 gram serving. The World Health Organization has recommended keeping salt intake to five grams per day.

These efforts will likely only increase as more regulations are put in place. In the U.K., Food Promotion and Placement regulations were established in 2021 with a goal of restricting the promotion in stores and online of food and beverages that are high in fat, salt, or sugar.

“Ultimately, it comes down to looking into the guidelines of every CPG company,” another licensing executive said. “They all look at it a bit differently and it is about how they enforce them. Core products are viewed differently than licensed products.”

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