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Brands show their sensitive gay side

July 11, 2012

Pink: it’s the new black. Brands are falling over each other to “out” themselves as fellow travellers in the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender community (hereto after, LBGT).

First we had Kraft, with its Gay Pride rainbow cookie, posted on a Facebook page. Then Google joined forces with Citigroup and Ernest & Young to promote a joint campaign that  is to highlight the privations suffered by LBGTs around the world. And now – improbably enough – a famous Premier League club has joined the throng.

No, not Chelsea attempting to smother the unpleasant odour of racism emanating from the John Terry court case. Or, for that matter, Queen’s Park Rangers. Liverpool is the first Premier League club to be officially represented in an LBGT event in Britain. A banner featuring the club’s crest is to be carried by staff and members of the women’s team at next month’s Liverpool Pride.

According to Liverpool FC managing director Ian Ayre, the initiative is all about ridding football of homophobia. Earlier this year he helped organise a Football v Homophobia tournament hosted at the club’s academy. Good luck to him: it’s an all-too-evident flaw marring the Beautiful Game, and he’s trying to do something about it.

Less clear is what Kraft (and the others) are up to. Is there an identifiable gay cookie sector? Or do LBGTs simply consume cookies like everyone else? The Facebook campaign, which consisted of an image of an Oreo cookie with six layers of rainbow-coloured creams and the caption ‘Proudly Supports Love’, certainly managed to court controversy. Within a few days, there were 38,000 comments on the site, and nearly 250,000 ‘likes’. Most of the comments were positive, but some were decidedly hostile – and within a few days a ‘Boycott Oreo’ page had sprung up on Facebook, fueled no doubt by neat Bible-Belt bigotry.

Was Kraft really standing up to be counted? I doubt it. More likely, Barack Obama’s forthright backing for same-sex marriage has given brands “permission” to go mainstream on the subject.

By way of explanation Basil Maglaris, Kraft’s associate director of corporate affairs, tells us: “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. We feel the Oreo ad is a fun reflection of our values.”  A “fun reflection”, eh? The smile may be on the other side of its corporate face if Kraft visibly falls down on its employment diversity programme any time soon.

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Kraft split raises more doubts about value of Cadbury takeover

August 4, 2011

On hearing that Kraft intended to split it operation into two, the first image that came to my mind was that of the Grand Old Duke of York.

Hopefully (for the sake of shareholders if no one else) Kraft chief Irene Rosenfeld’s grasp of tactics is superior to that of the benighted generalissimo. But we cannot be sure at this stage and nor – judging by their confused reaction – are some of Kraft’s investors.

True, one of the most tiresome of these – corporate raider Nelson Peltz, who has been endlessly belabouring Rosenfeld for Kraft’s dead-in-the-water share price – thinks it’s a great idea to split the lumbering behemoth into a fast-track candy and snacks company centred on emerging markets (and by implication double digit growth) while leaving the dreary North American grocery business to slumber on as a “yield centre” with a no-hope share price.

According to his logic, Rosenfeld has been playing a long and crafty (sorry) strategic game, in which the $19bn Cadbury hostile takeover was only the first move. Rosenfeld needed Cadbury for its dominance in emerging markets, so she could reshape Kraft’s existing snack lines into a global growth business. Warren Buffett, another long-time Rosenfeld critic, seems to have adopted the same line, albeit in more muted language.

Having met Rosenfeld, I can attest that she indeed a very sharp cookie. But whether she has been that crafty I – and rather more importantly, many members of the investment community – have reason to question.

Undoubtedly she has been limbering up a dramatic piece of financial engineering for some time. But maybe that’s all it is: one last, opportunistic, throw of the corporate dice to get two of her most irksome and powerful critics off her back.

Here’s the flaw in the grand strategy theory. If Rosenfeld had the idea of capturing access to developing markets all along, how come she so successfully managed to jettison all the senior people who knew anything about exploiting them? I am of course talking about virtually the entire senior tier of Cadbury management, which formed a queue to the exit within months of the takeover in early 2010.

I am afraid Kraft lifer Tim Cofer – if that’s who ends up getting the top job at Kraft Snacks and Candy – simply won’t cut the mustard by comparison.

If Kraft, in buying Cadbury, was merely parlaying itself into the world’s emerging markets, it chose a peculiarly clumsy and perverse way to do it.


There’s only one solution to doctors’ health messages: ban them

January 22, 2010

Better for your daily health requirements

Not long ago, if you bit into a Kraft Oreo, munched some McDonald’s fries or tucked into a Kentucky Fried Chicken leg, the chances were you would be ingesting a nasty, toxic substance called trans fatty acid. Consume enough of it and it won’t do your health any good at all. It’s known to cause heart problems, by promoting “bad” cholesterol at the expense of “good”; and it’s also a suspect in other disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and infertility.

In small, probably harmless, doses, trans fatty acid is found in nature – especially in dairy products. The reason intake of the stuff reached epidemic proportions was because it can be synthesised easily and makes a cheap and superficially attractive alternative to butter-based saturated fats and lard. As such, it provides a useful shortening agent in baked products and can also be counted upon to extend shelf-life well beyond its natural span.

It is not a new discovery. The processed food industry has been using it, in increasing concentrations, for most of the past 100 years. The bio-chemical formula was first adopted by a UK company which later became a part of Unilever. In the same year, 1909, Procter & Gamble acquired the US rights and promptly launched Crisco, a shortening product that was based on hydrogenated cotton-seed oil (it still exists, but under different ownership, and in a different formulation). At the time, nothing was known of the lethal side effects of trans fatty acids. Indeed, the delusion continued to exist well into the sixties that trans fatty acids, found in various margarine products, were not only cheaper, but actually better for you.

What was the medical profession doing all this time? For most of the past century, it was being about as ineffectual in exposing the ill-effects of these fats as it was in combatting the well-known health-hazards of tobacco and alcohol. This was not because of a total absence of pathological evidence. On the contrary, indications of a possible connection with cancer began to emerge as early as the 1940s. There was reasonable doubt; it’s just that no one seemed to want to voice it in public.

I mention all this because doctors  have now adopted a high moral tone in calling for the banning of these man-made fats. The fact is, the horse has already bolted. Although Britain hasn’t – unlike Denmark, New York, California, Australia, Switzerland and Austria – actually prohibited the stuff, a quiet self-denying ordinance has already been put in place by UK food manufacturers and retailers. The latter made a pledge back in 2006 to eliminate it from all their own-label brands, which they have now fulfilled and Big Food is beating a hasty retreat. For this we have a public health campaign, BanTransFats.com, and the so-called Project Tiburon, to thank. It originated in 2003 with a court case against Kraft in California which then snowballed. I don’t recall the British medical profession being particularly vocal at the time. We had to wait until July 29, 2006 for an editorial in the British Medical Journal promoting “better labelling,” which seems to have stopped well short of calling for trans fats to be banned.

There’s nothing quite like jumping on a bandwagon, however, once someone else has got it rolling for you. A similar “bannist” tendency may be seen in the medical profession’s approach to alcohol advertising. No finer example of the genre exists than Professor Gerard Hastings’ recent polemical article in the BMJ.

His proposals for tightening up advertising regulation (to include among other things a 9pm watershed, digital and sponsorship restrictions) bear an uncanny resemblance to the recommendations just published by the Commons health select committee. Indeed, if I did not know better, I would have thought he had single-handedly masterminded them. So I don’t underestimate his influence as a lobbyist.

And yet, closely argued though the paper is, it somehow misses the point. Whatever impact marketing communications may have on increasing consumption of alcohol, it is scarcely the principal villain behind our lamentable ‘binge culture’. A better place to look for major remedial correction would be our unhinged drinking hours, below-cost supermarket offers (which most brands abhor) and a decline in social standards (not all of which can be blamed on the advertising industry). Hastings, however, is not notably interested in any of this. The true nature of his agenda is revealed in the last paragraph of his article, where he cites former advertising luminary David Abbott’s views on tobacco advertising. The only really satisfactory solution to alcohol advertising is to ban it, it seems.


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