Brave, or brand suicide? Only eat some Dolmio and Uncle Ben's products once a week, says maker Mars

PRs have praised Mars Food's "proactive" announcement that certain products including those from the Dolmio and Uncle Ben's range will be labelled 'occasional' and should only be eaten once a week, as part of a new health initiative from the food manufacturer.

When's your Dolmio day? Not too often, Mars suggests
When's your Dolmio day? Not too often, Mars suggests

A press release on the global food manufacturer's website says that through its Health and Wellbeing Ambition, the company will "help consumers differentiate and choose between 'everyday' and 'occasional' options".

It said: "To maintain the authentic nature of the recipe, some Mars Food products are higher in salt, added sugar or fat. As these products are not intended to be eaten daily, Mars Food will provide guidance to consumers on-pack and on its website regarding how often these meal offerings should be consumed within a balanced diet."

The story featured prominently on BBC news bulletins this morning and has been picked up across UK media, with many stories leading with the information that some Dolmio and Uncle Ben's products "should only be consumed once a week", in the words of BBC News.

In a comment supplied via its global PR agency APCO Worldwide, Mars said in a statement: "Our guidance to consumers around occasional meals is just one element of the ambition, and impacts a small number of products. In fact, we expect just five per cent of our global product portfolio will receive an ‘occasional’ label."

"Whenever you step up to the plate and do something bold there is the chance that headlines don’t capture the whole story – but that reinforces the point that sometimes leadership can feel uncomfortable, which often sadly gets in the way of companies doing the right thing. We are really proud of our products, our passionate team who want to make a difference and of our wide ranging Health and Wellbeing Ambition."

Rikki Weir, director of consumer brand PR consultancy Cirkle, told PRWeek: "I think the company should be applauded for this brave move, which is rooted in social responsibility – it's an innovative nod to the educational role that many manufactures will continue to take. It informs consumers and leaves them with the choice of how often they consume the product."

Rikki Jones, London director of WPP-owned healthcare PR agency GCI Health, said the news was "a step forward, albeit a small one", going on to say: "The commercial industry most definitely has a greater role to play in tackling consumer food choice and obesity – and the more it can do to demonstrate self-regulation, particularly in the current environment, is only a good thing."

Noting that the announcement today was part of a broader five-year strategy, she said: "The real corporate reputation test will come from how well it engages with the broader health community on its implementation. I for one hope it can prove a level of responsibility that will better welcome commercial industry to the broader obesity discussion."

Earlier this year, Mars Food had hit the headlines for a recall of certain chocolate products after plastic was found in one of its bars – also drawing praise from comms professionals.

Paul McEntee, former consumer brands director at Edelman UK and more recently founder of the agency Mc&T, was one of those, and said today's news appeared to be "part of a long-term strategy on transparency".

"Tesco felt the brunt of backlash recently for misleading on its packaging, creating 'fake farms' to position its packaged meats, so Mars is banking that being proactive will deliver short-term pain for long-term gain," he said.

The reception was also positive on social media, although questions were asked as to how Mars' approach would affect sales.

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