FTC Readies Subpoenas

By Jim Edwards/Brandweek
April 19, 2007

NEW YORK The Federal Trade Commission said it would subpoena 44 food, beverage and quick-serve restaurant marketers for detailed information on how they market to children. The companies were not named.

The information demands will be detailed and all-encompassing, according to a Federal Register notice, turning marketing departments at food companies into an open book for the feds.

The FTC will seek information on:

--Any traditional media targeting kids.

--All product placement, viral and word-of-mouth marketing activities.

--Marketing expenditures that are directed to individuals of a specific race, ethnicity or gender.

--Any information on health claims such as "better for you."

And the FTC is particularly interested in these categories: breakfast cereals; snack foods; candy; dairy products, including milk and yogurt; baked goods; carbonated beverages; fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages; prepared foods and meals; frozen and chilled desserts; and quick-service restaurant items.

The FTC estimates it will take companies between 100 and 210 hours to fulfill its requests for data.

The information will be used to write a report to Congress that, obviously, will be closely read. The report will likely provide one of the most complete pictures of how food is marketed to children ever compiled—and will be examined by plaintiffs and their lawyers who hope to bring obesity suits against companies.

The notice said the FTC would attempt to treat the data it receives in confidence except where that data might be publicly available. In its report, the FTC said, the information gathered would be presented in "aggregate," rather than on specific companies.

"The commission anticipates providing information on an anonymous or aggregated basis, in a manner sufficient to protect individual companies&sbquo confidential information, to provide a factual summary of food industry marketing activities and expenditures targeted to children and adolescents," the notice states.