Food companies respond to new dietary guidelines

Food and beverage companies are working to understand the implications of the proposed new dietary guidelines by the US government.

WASHINGTON: Food and beverage companies are working to understand the implications of the proposed new dietary guidelines that say Americans consume too much added sugar, fat, and sodium.

“The guidelines are looked to as a guidepost as to what's appropriate for marketing food and contributing to the overall well-being of consumers,” says Wendy Love, EVP of consumer marketing at GolinHarris.

The guidelines, most recently branded as MyPyramid, are released every five years by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. An advisory committee opened up the new guidelines this week for a 30-day public comment period.

During the process leading up to the release of the guidelines, many companies have attended advisory meetings and webinars as well as submitted comments. Since the release this week, agencies have been providing top-line analysis for clients, who are fielding media requests.

Susan Davison, director of corporate affairs at Kraft Foods, says it's too soon to speculate about how the guidelines could affect the company.

In the comments submitted by Kraft, the company addressed nutrition adequacy, whole grains, saturated fat, and sodium. It also said it had a “considerable interest” in the deliberations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and cited its "ability to communicate nutrition information to consumers."

Davison notes that Kraft has been “accelerating our focus on health and well-being." Kraft announced in March that it planned to reduce sodium in its North American products by 10% by 2011.

As consumer-packaged goods companies have realigned product strategies to add healthier products and reduce sugars, fats, and sodium, there is a greater emphasis this year on the role industry can play, especially in how they communicate to stakeholders, including the government.

Even Michelle Obama's “Let's Move” campaign, which aims to eliminate childhood obesity, has applauded industry coalitions like the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.  

“Michelle has really raised the bar on preventing childhood obesity,” says Janet Helm, chief food and nutrition strategist at Weber Shandwick.“Everything is viewed through the lens of obesity.”

The 2010 guidelines include clauses on nutrition literacy and cooking, as well as an overall focus on increasing the daily intake of plants and whole grains for Americans to counter the obesity epidemic. Two examples of how the industry may respond include product reformations, as some companies have already done, and changes in how companies market food to children, says Helm.

“It's not enough for consumers to change behaviors,” she adds. “We need to change the food environment.”

Helm says that media interest in the guidelines is different this time because of the prevalence of bloggers in 2010, as compared to 2005. Part of the analysis that Weber Shandwick is providing to clients has to do with how the media is covering the guidelines.

Following the 30-day public comment period, USDA and HHS will make final determinations for the guidelines, which will be released later this year.

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