Unethical Marketing of Children's Lunchbox Foods

September 2003
Brilliantly marketed highly salty foods are being deliberately targeted for our children's lunchboxes. According to Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH)1 the promotion of extremely high salt foods targeted at school lunchboxes is an unethical marketing practice. Four out of five items surveyed by CASH used a combination of at least three marketing techniques to specifically aim at children.

"The use of marketing practices targeted at children to sell highly salted products is unethical." says Registered Nutritionist and Chartered Marketer, Kathy Lewis of Consensus Action on Salt and Health. "Ethical practices are aimed to ensure a sustained market. Although promotional techniques are used to encourage usage by a particular target audience, they should not be used on those that are vulnerable and at such a crucial stage of health and development."

According to consumer marketing reports2 the average lunchbox consists of savoury sandwiches, a processed snack product and drink. The combined total expenditure for sandwiches, savouries and snack products is more than £8 b per year3. Such a typical lunchbox meal adds up to approximately 3 g of salt4, equivalent to the total target daily salt intake for a 4 - 6 year old.

CASH surveyed 23 items used in children's lunchboxes. Over 80% used a combination of marketing techniques, including packaging, positioning, promotion and price, to enhance sales. The worst cases surveyed,, using up to a combination of 10 marketing techniques on one product, included 'Attack-a-snack' (2.5 g/portion) 'Walker's Crisps'(1 g /packet) and the recently launched 'Stackem's' (2.3 g per pack). Each used a combination of marketing techniques specifically aimed at children and busy parents. These included;

• web-based promotions, such as design your own dairy-lea movie or an interactive web-enabled competition;
• text-messages;
• competitions, such as win a year's pocket money
• high profile endorsements, such as Gary Lineker
• cartoon endorsements such as the Simpsons,
• in-pack promotions, including games and colouring in
• health claims such as high in Ca, equivalent to one glass of milk
• convenient packaging, with 'ideal for lunches' or combination lunch packs
• TV advertisements specifically aimed at children,
• vouchers for schools,
• discounts such buy 2 for the price of three
• multi-buy packs.

The liking for salty foods is a learned taste preference set in childhood and so encouraging children to eat high levels of salt sets the seeds for vascular disease, increasing the risk of developing stroke and heart disease later in life. High salt intakes have also linked to osteoporosis, stomach cancer, asthma and kidney disease.

"The systematic targeting of children by the food industry who wish to habituate children to highly salted processed foods is immoral, parents need to be more aware of these tactics and make sure that their children eat more healthy foods with far less salt." Said Professor MacGregor, Chairman of CASH.

CASH calls for a reduction in the amount of salt in processed foods and for food manufacturers to conduct themselves in a more socially responsible manner. Marketing practices that enable food producers to sustain longer-term growth should not be at the expense of our children's health.


Notes to editors
1. CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health) is a group of specialists concerned with salt and its effects on health. It is successfully working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high salt diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of salt in processed foods as well as salt added to cooking, and the table. CASH also runs National Salt Awareness Day on 29 January every year.
2. Mintel, Eating Habits April 2002
3. Mintel, Eating Habits April 2002 and Mintel Sweet and Salty Snacks Report January 1999

4. SACN (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) www.sacn.gov.uk
Age Target Average Salt Intake (g/d)
0-6 months <1g/d
7-12 months 1 g/d
1-3 years 2 g/d
4-6 years 3 g/d
7-10 years 5 g/d
11-14 years 6 g/d

5.  Examples of common lunchboxes with high salt contents.



Salt content per portion

Ham sandwich on white bread


Cheese and onion crisps


Slices of cucumber and cherry tomatoes


Chocolate biscuit (penguin)


Fruit juice, or squash






Salt content per portion

Cheese and pickle sandwich


1 Cheese string


Ready salted crisps


Small bunch of grapes or apple


Coca cola






Salt content per portion

Salt and vinegar crisps


Lunchable pack


Chocolate crispy cake


Blackcurrant carton drink