Unilever-owned brands including Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum will no longer target children or gather their data in any of its markets.
Unilever is to stop marketing food and beverages to children under-16 across all of its media channels globally, choosing to “raise the bar” on existing restrictions.
As part of its “enhanced” principles, the FMCG giant will also stop collecting or storing data on anyone under-16.
The new rules will apply across both traditional media and social media. Unilever will no longer use influencers or celebrities who are under-16 or primarily appeal to young people in that age group, and says it will work to limit the appeal of its influencer content to children.
Unilever will also refrain from promoting its brands or products in schools, unless specifically requested to participate in educational campaigns.
The FMCG company owns food and refreshment brands including Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum and Wall’s. In January, Unilever announced it was spinning off these ice cream brands into a separate category as it restructured its business around five pillars, which also include beauty and wellbeing, personal care, home care and nutrition.
Its other food brands, such as Marmite and Hellmann’s, now fall into the nutrition category.
These brands will have until January 2023 to comply with these new principles.
Currently, in most countries in the world, the food and beverage industry restricts marketing to children under 13 years old.
However, according to Unilever’s president of ice cream Matt Close, the business believes it is “important to raise the bar” on responsible marketing, as it recognises “the power” that social media and influencer marketing can have on children’s choices.
“By making these changes, our goal is to continue to reduce children’s exposure to advertising from the food and beverage industry, and instead support parents to select appropriate treats, to be enjoyed from time to time,” he says.
In some countries, such as the UK and Portugal, these principles are already partially met, fully met or exceeded through its compliance with existing laws and regulations.
In the UK, foods or beverages that are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) are not allowed to be marketed in a way that is directed at under-16s. The UK government is introducing laws that will see a complete ban on the marketing of HFSS food and drink on digital channels and on TV before 9pm. These new laws will come into effect at the end of this year.
Unilever claims it became one of the first companies to apply specific restrictions to marketing food and beverages to children in 2003. In 2020, the business updated its restrictions by ending marketing of the category to children under the age of 12 in traditional media, and under the age of 13 via social media channels.
Over the last year, Unilever has divested some parts of its food and drinks business. In November last year it sold its tea business, which included brands like Lipton and Tazo. In January, CEO Alan Jope said the company was considering divesting some other parts of its food and drink business that are experiencing slower growth.
By Niamh Carroll