Glanbia boss says food industry is an easy political target
Ireland’s food industry has attracted “an unwarranted level of attention” from advertising regulators and this “special treatment” risks undermining Irish food brands, the chief executive of Glanbia Consumer Foods has said.
Colin Gordon told a seminar organised by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) and attended by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte that “facile adoption of foreign regulatory models” did not help the debate on how the industry and the Government can work together on issues such as obesity.
“We think we’re too often seen as a soft political target, as a deflection from other issues,” Mr Gordon said. “Food and beverages only account for 10 per cent of all advertising spend in Ireland, yet [they] get much more than 10 per cent of the discussion on proposed regulations.”
Glanbia is the biggest Irish consumer food company and its Avonmore dairy brand is the second-largest grocery brand in Ireland behind Coca-Cola.
Mr Gordon said it is of huge concern to advertisers that the media in which they placed their advertisements “appear to be so one-sidedly negative about brands and business.
“The level of negativity is very harmful for those of us trying to communicate good news and a positive message.”
Irish food companies were not competing on a level playing field with international brands and private-label food, Mr Gordon said.
He added that food products that do not have ingredients written on the label in English or Irish are illegal here and should be taken off the shelves.
Mr Gordon worked for alcohol, tobacco and soft drinks companies before joining what was “a correctly paranoid food industry” in 2006. “I truly thought I was entering into calmer waters when I entered the Irish food industry . . . I very quickly came to realise the regulators were after me,” he said.
His comments follow a proposal last March by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to ban the advertising of cheese from children’s television under a new code of practice. After the industry objected, the BAI exempted cheese from its new regulations however.
Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said that there was “a societal need for some form of regulation on advertising practices” in light of “the pressing need to protect the young and to ensure that businesses cannot make false claims about their products”.
Although he described it as “not perfect”, the Minister indicated that he broadly supported a system of self-regulation such as that operated by the ASAI.