The magazine advertisement led with the line, “sugar can be part of a healthy diet”, and went on to explain that sugar did not need to be banned from the diet, but should be consumed in moderation. However, Belgium’s High Council for Health has criticised the campaign, saying that Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the advertisement undermined the independence of dieticians, and that it helped promote sugar, despite overconsumption of sugar among most Belgians.
Speaking to FoodNavigator, VBVD board member Els Vercruyssen said that the association works with a PR company called Karott, which proposed an information campaign on sugars in a magazine advertising space sponsored by Coca-Cola.
“We say a little bit about sugars and about how sugars can be part of a healthy diet – but the quantities cannot be too high – and then we refer to the recommendations of our [government’s] health advisor,” she said. “…It was a campaign also to put us in the picture.”
She underlined that Coca-Cola did not have any say in the text of the advertisement, and it was common practice for PR companies to ask the organisation if it wanted to run information campaigns about macronutrients, like protein or fat.
“We don’t want the public to get the idea that Coca-Cola made the advertisement,” Vercruyssen said. “…We never received money for it.”
The association has been widely criticised in the Belgian media for the campaign, for allegedly promoting sugar consumption, as well as for Coca-Cola’s involvement.
“The first thing we did was apologise, because this was not our intention. We want to give evidence-based information and be neutral,” she said.
“…We won’t do other advertising like this in the future.”
Vercruyssen added that all the VBVD board members work on a voluntary basis with “good intentions”.
“In the future, we have to be wiser about some of the decisions we make,” she said.