Saturday 25 February 2017

Food giants' sweetie splurge on sport

But kids will get even fatter if they eat too much of what is being advertised by the stars, writes Roisin Burke

GLOBAL purveyor of calorie-loaded chocolatey snacks and sweets seeks international sports outfit for friendship, maybe more.

Tickets for the London Olympics went on sale last week, putting Kraft Foods' Cadbury in the spotlight. They might seem like strange bedfellows, but the chocolate giant is bankrolling this showcasing of international sporting excellence to the tune of €30m.

Cadbury is the "official treat provider to the London Olympic Games" in an exclusive relationship deal meaning only its sweets and ice creams will be sold there.

Health groups have been stingingly critical. One of the major parts of Britain's pitch to win the games was the aim of getting young people fitter and more physically active. How is that achieved through promoting the scoffing of chocolate, some asked?

Cadbury has also met with the Olympic Council of Ireland about sponsoring Ireland's athletes for the Olympic push. Sports clothing name Asics is also in the frame.

While Asics's interest as a sports clothing brand has an obvious logic, it's less easy to see why a purveyor of fatty, sugary snacks wants to promote itself through sport. But this is a rampant trend.

Cadbury bankrolls the GAA Under-21s Football Championship and funds college scholarships for these young players.

It has invested €15m in its 'Spots vs Stripes' campaign to mark its Olympic sponsorship and is funding quirky activity events like custard cricket and Creme Egg and spoon races around the country. The initiative aims to "reflect the true spirit of the Olympics" and "get people of all ages and walks of life to play games again". It has even got celebrity child psychologist David Coleman on board, "working closely with Cadbury on this initiative".

While there are outdoor 'sports' antics as part of the promo, a lot of the campaign really revolves around passive couch potato gaming online.

It's not just Kraft and Cadbury; the world's biggest food players are desperate to link their products with 'healthy' activities, and offset criticism from childhood obesity and other health groups in the process.

Kraft's major rival, international food behemoth Nestle, is competing avidly in the activity sponsorship space too. While many of us might associate it with KitKats and Yorkies, Nestle calls itself "the world's leading nutrition, health and wellness company".

Nestle Ireland has a 'Get Set, Go Free' campaign aimed at families where you collect 'activity points' from chocolate and cereal packets to use to get vouchers for different free activities from waterskiing to abseiling to tennis.

But there's a weird clash here between the 'wellness' activity and the gorging on sugar-stoked treats involved. You would need to eat 15 KitKats to enjoy a surfing or rock climbing session, and six for a free tennis game. It takes 18 scoffings of Smarties to get an adventure day out. You'll need to gobble five boxes of Cheerios to go canoeing.

Burning off the calorie count from these snackfests will take some doing. A 15-hour surfathon or 12 hours of tennis to burn up all the calories in the KitKats it takes to get a voucher, or five hours of canoe paddling to work off the Cheerios.

Calorific crisps and football come together with Largo Food's Tayto as the official sponsor of the Irish soccer team, to the tune of circa €1.5m a year. A launch last year that featured Giovanni Trapattoni in a kick-about with Mr Tayto.

Kerry Group's Denny has sponsored the Irish junior surfing team and big surfing events and ran TV ads that brought together, however implausibly, sausages and surf culture. The Irish food force's Cheese Strings brand has sponsored local under-eight's GAA in the past.

Any link with sport, however tenuous, is worth making for a snack food conglomerate. KP Ireland's Rancheros, Skips and Meanies brands recently did a giveaway offer where you could win backpacks in GAA county colours.

In spite of the ongoing economic crisis, sports sponsorship is a growth industry, according to Kantar Media, which last month opened an Irish sports sponsorship division. It estimates spending will hit €120m this year in this sector. Buoyed by plenty of sticky snack money, no doubt.

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