Government, food firms up outreach for new diet guide

WASHINGTON: Last week's release of the much-anticipated new federal dietary guidelines is just the beginning of some major PR work from both the government and the food industry.

WASHINGTON: Last week's release of the much-anticipated new federal dietary guidelines is just the beginning of some major PR work from both the government and the food industry.

The guidelines, updated every five years, constitute the official US recommendations for what foods should be eaten or avoided. They often set the tone for future marketing efforts by food and drink manufacturers.

The 2005 guidelines do not differ greatly from those released in 2000, but the PR efforts surrounding them are nonetheless in full swing.

Kraft already made headlines for launching its "Sensible Solutions" program, which will flag nutrition information on product labels, on the very morning the guidelines were released.

The food giant also said it would stop advertising some products to children ages 6 to 11.

Kraft had planned the announcement before knowing the exact date the guidelines would be released, said Nancy Daigler, VP of corporate affairs.

McDonald's will also promote the guidelines through tray liners and in its ongoing efforts to discuss balanced lifestyles, said Mike Donahue, VP of US communications.

Robert Earl, senior director of food policy for the Food Products Association, said his group was pleased with the guidelines. "I saw quite a bit of emphasis on processed food or at least foods that have been made by our members."

One group that has been less pleased is the Sugar Association, which criticized the recommendation to limit added sugars.

PR director Melanie Miller said the group would launch a consumer campaign later this year to "begin to position sugar as not the enemy anymore."

It is working with Marriner Marketing Communications.

The government is launching its own PR initiative to support the guidelines, for the first time creating consumer materials to heighten awareness of them among the public.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is using a booklet, "Finding Your Way to a Healthier You," to communicate the guidelines in an eye-catching and interactive way, said Christina Pearson, director of media affairs.

"It wasn't a bland government document," she said. "We've gone beyond the mandate to distill these messages."

Porter Novelli worked with HHS and the Department of Agriculture to test the language and look of the booklet in focus groups, Pearson noted.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said the guidelines would have a "great impact on the food industry."

"The more you report about it ... the more the food industry will start responding," he told reporters during a press conference.

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