Mars tells consumers to eat some of its brands less often
Earlier this week, Mars Food – the (wait for it) food arm of global conglomerate Mars Incorporated – announced a bold and innovative step, acknowledging that “some Mars products are higher in salt, added sugar or fat … [and] are not intended to be eaten daily.” Mars stated it will start labeling some of its products as either “everyday” or “occasional” options, providing on-pack guidance as to how often each should be
consumed as part of a balanced diet. It is unclear how many Mars products will adopt this type of labelling, beyond the three brands (Uncle Ben’s®, Masterfoods®, AND Dolmio®) named in the press release.
A cynic will say that Mars is taking this step for its own purposes: a really clever marketing gambit by labeling products that are only consumed occasionally, or perhaps to begin shaping their defense itself against any future product-related litigation. The very cynical might even ponder the possibility that Mars is positioning their “really authentic” foods (that would be the ones to be tagged with the ‘occasional’ label) in order to justify product price increases. Without a doubt, any of those could be true.
It is true that Mars is not the first company to label their products to indicate their health-value. Tesco, with its Healthy Living sub-brand touts the benefits of that particular range of packaged, processed foods. But what is also true is that Mars is unique with its obvious, on-pack alert to consumers to NOT consume some of its brands more than occasionally.
Mars has a comprehensive, enterprise-wide, operationally integrated Corporate Social Responsibility program. Principles in Action, is prominently featured throughout Mars’ website, detailing specific targets within each of five areas. To be sure, Mars could have set different or more aggressive targets, or it could have performed better or faster; but the simple fact remains that Mars started. The website makes CSR reports available for 2013, 2014 and 2015 – showing an ongoing corporate commitment to improvement across a broad range of practices affecting society, their supply chain and the global environment.
Whatever gains may accrue to Mars, the company deserves kudos for expanding the discussion from "these of our foods are healthy" to now also include "some of our foods are less healthy and should be consumed less often." At a minimum, Mars’ action established a benchmark for itself, for its own brands and for its competitors. Regulators and activists alike will look at Mars Food’s everyday vs. occasional labelling as a starting point for future consumer and on-pack communication standards.
That is a big deal; and it is a clock that can never be wound back.