‘Ottawa’ Beverage Lobby Perks up Over Potential Marketing Restrictions in Ottawa
The national beverage lobby, whose members include some of the world’s largest soft drink and juice producers, is already out ahead of Ottawa Public Health’s plan to test the waters on a food-and-drink marketing ban.
“We just want to get a sense of what the process is going to be for consultations,” according to Carolyn Fell, senior director of communications for the Canadian Beverage Association.
The association has been meeting with councillors trying to find “points of alignment” with the city, Fell said.
The public health board last Monday approved consultations on four policy options for reducing the influence of unhealthy food and beverages on children. The ideas include banning marketing on city property, banning marketing in schools, restricting access to the products on city property and using zoning rules to restrict locations of fast-food joints.
Fell said the beverage industry has voluntary marketing restrictions to children under 12.
“We have a really good track record in this area,” Fell said. “We are not opposed to having the restrictions put in, as long as they apply to everyone equally, as long as they are reasonable, as long as the consultation is broad and open and everybody’s information is taken into consideration and that it’s evidence-based.”
The health unit is consulting on possible restrictions to selling food and beverages high in salt, fat, sugar or calories on municipal property, but the beverage association wants to know what that means.
“We would want to have a crystal-clear understanding of where those thresholds are going to be,” Fell said.
The city’s lobbyist registry also indicates a representative from Coca-Cola was also involved in meetings with councillors and staff this week about the health unit’s consultation plan.
Coun. Shad Qadri, the chair of the health board, is keen on collecting input from any group that could be affected by marketing restrictions.
“I want to make sure that when we go out to consultation, we give every organization and every partner in the community and the public itself an opportunity to make their comments or put their feedback into this process,” Qadri said.
One public delegate and a health board member called into question the city’s partnership with Red Bull Crashed Ice as part of the Ottawa 2017 program. The energy drink was heavily marketed in the capital during the event.
Qadri said in the future the health board will likely give some thought to large events with that kind of product sponsorship.
There is a heightened health awareness about energy drinks at city hall. In 2013, the city asked its supplier to remove energy drinks from vending machines in municipal recreation centres.
The beverage association is watching the city’s next move closely.
“I think if there’s concern about caffeine, they need to look at all the caffeine, and not just one relatively small source of caffeine,” Fell said, pointing to coffee as a much more widely consumed caffeinated drink.
There could be a tough sell within city hall if a marketing restriction kills money-making opportunities.
OC Transpo and recreation, culture and facilities are two city departments that generate advertising revenue.
The city says revenue from rink board and wall advertisements related to the food and beverage sector is estimated at $18,000 annually. Pouring rights for cold drinks rake in $96,000. Leases for concession stands, which profit from the sale of food and beverages, bring in $324,000.
Transpo’s third-party advertising agreements for buses, stations and shelters are worth $3.7 million, but the city didn’t have a breakdown by service or product types.
Qadri said he’s not sure yet if there will be pushback from inside or outside city hall on the idea of marketing restrictions.
The health board is also hoping for help from the feds. The board has thrown its support behind a Senate bill aiming to restrict marketing of food and beverages to children under 13 years old.
At the same time, Fell said the beverage association is concerned that a “patchwork of marketing restrictions can be a little bit difficult for everybody.”