The announcement that Cadbury is to be a sponsor of the 2012 London Olympic Games has re-opened rifts over the role that food companies that market less-healthy foods should play in sporting events.
Cadbury, a British company best known for its chocolate brands, confirmed yesterday that is an Official Confectionery and Ice Cream Supporter of the Games, in a deal that gives it the rights to use the London 2012 logos on products.
It will also supply all the confectionery and packaged ice cream sold at the Games venues and within the Olympic Park; the tier-two sponsorship deal is costing the company ₤20m (c €25.7m) – half that of a ‘tier-one’ sponsor.
The news has drawn a reaction from health campaigners – particularly in view of the UK government’s efforts to curb obesity, including restrictions on targeting foods high fat, sugar and salt, to children.
Tam Fry, a board-member of medical charity the National Obesity Forum, told FoodNavigator.com that the organisation is “disappointed that the London games have gone to Cadbury, because sport and chocolate don’t mix”.
While he added that he has nothing against chocolate per se, and especially dark chocolate, in moderation, he is “most concerned at the message this gives to the young and impressionable”.
“We can’t understand why the government can’t go to other organisations. There must be others that are less contentious.”
“Cadbury and McDonald’s [another Olympic sponsor] are more likely to do damage or contribute to obesity”.
At the beginning of this year, the UK government unveiled a major £372m programme to combat obesity, which is seeking to address these measures as well as partnering with the food industry to develop and market healthier food.
The UK has been a hot-bed of debate about the suitability of marketing unhealthy food products to children, with the phasing in of restrictions on food advertising on TV and print form.
While sponsorship of the Olympic Games is not solely child-related, the Games are being seen as a big opportunity for the UK to stimulate interest in sports and activity amongst its youth.
However chief executive of London 2012 Paul Deighton is reported as defending the move, saying: "Previous games have had chocolate and confectionery suppliers, and like most sporting events confectionery is available to buy at Olympic games.”
A spokesperson for Cadbury is quoted by The Guardian newspaper as saying: "It is entirely appropriate that the biggest sports event that Britain has seen is supplied with British confectionery… It would be odd … to find only chocolate from foreign companies at the venue."
Cadbury has been criticised in the past for a promotion that encouraged children to collect vouchers from chocolate bar packaging that could be handed in to their school and exchanged for sports equipment.
There are no plans to introduce a voucher scheme as part of the Olympics promotional deal, however.
Cadbury does subscribe to a global marketing code of conduct under which it does not advertise to children under eight years where they make up the majority of the audience. It also says it is reviewing its portion sizes, and providing labels with more nutritional informative.
The consumer watchdog Which? has been one of the most vociferous critics of UK food firms advertising practices. Its food campaign has most recently turned its attention to the use of brand-owned cartoon characters to promote foods deemed unhealthy
A spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the suitability of confectionery firms advertising at sporting events in time for publication of this article.
The Food and Drink Federation, which represents manufacturers in the UK, has repeatedly drawn attention to industry’s efforts to adopt more responsible marketing practices, and to reformulate products along healthier lines – a process accepted to be fraught with technical issues, but a priority nonetheless.
However the federation declined to comment on the matter of Cadbury’s sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics, nor food firms sponsoring sporting events in general, as “these tend to be independent commercial decisions”.