Food and beverage companies face a PR challenge

First Lady Michelle Obama made big news earlier this year when she declared war on childhood obesity.

First Lady Michelle Obama made big news earlier this year when she declared war on childhood obesity. Her “Let's Move” campaign is ambitious and presents a whole host of PR challenges for major food companies.

The problem for the big food companies is that participating in this campaign voluntarily means at least a partial admission that their products are not as good as they could be.

This week, the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition including The Campbell Soup Company, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods, and PepsiCo, announced it planned to cut 1 trillion calories by the end of 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by the end of 2015. The members of the group make between 20% to 25% of food consumed in the US.

If the food they plan to sell with fewer calories still sells, then what does it say about the food they were selling? Don't these voluntary cuts in calories in some way erode trust in the brands?

I don't think people will stop buying Coke. But I do think smart consumers will start to wonder what exactly they have been consuming all these years when healthier versions of their favorite products slowly roll out into market.

What's funny about the industry response to this campaign is that it is largely about what is being removed from our food supply and out of our schools. There is very little about what these brands are doing to put nutrition into their products and into our schools.

The press is giving these big food makers a free ride and it offers a big opportunity for food companies that sell healthy products, like fruits and vegetables.

Chef Jose Andres, whose Minibar restaurant in Washington explores molecular gastronomy, believes this to be true. When he was profiled earlier this month on 60 Minutes, he declared meat overrated and said the “future was fruits and vegetables.”

Eric Bovim is co-founder and CEO of Gibraltar Associates.

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