In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Doghouse: General Mills pairs kid cereals with beer

September 4, 2015

general mills
General Mills (GM) has branched out from products such as granola bars, salsa, and cake mix to partner some of its beloved children's cereals with the alcohol industry.

GM recently shipped boxes of its Count Chocula cereal directly to the Black Rock Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, to produce the brewer's Halloween-edition Cerealiously Count Chocula beer.

This summer GM also announced a partnership with Minneapolis’ Fulton Beer to create yet another cereal-inspired brew. HefeWheaties is not made with the actual Wheaties cereal, but is available in 16-ounce cans that mimic a Wheaties box.

According to the Beer Institute and its industry self-regulatory code, beer advertising and marketing materials are supposed to avoid elements that appeal to youth. The code lists elements that primarily appeal to children, including but not limited to cartoon characters (Count Chocula) and symbols (Wheaties brand mark), for example.

Perhaps GM is used to advertising cereals like Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Trix (are for kids!) to children that it hasn't occurred to GM execs or its marketing staff that alcohol is a different kind of product.

Adding cereal as ingredient to beer and using it to promote is a recipe for attracting more kids to alcohol - and as a result, increasing harm.

Taco Bell Moves to Rebrand with...Alcoholic Slushies

August 12, 2015

pink and blue for two
A new Taco Bell location in Chicago has confirmed that it will serve beer, wine, and frozen mixed alcoholic drinks, and branches in other cities such as San Francisco are following suit. Taco Bell is not the first food chain to experiment with alcohol service; Sonic, Burger King, Chipotle, Shake Shack, and Starbucks have too. Alcohol sales may not seem like much of a stretch for fast food chains when compared to convenience stores, often found in close vicinity and selling similar types of products: inexpensive, nutritionally-deficient, high-fat and high-calorie junk food accompanied by sugary, flavored, colored, icy beverages. Unlike a convenience store slushie, however, Taco Bell's frozen drink may also include wine, vodka, or tequila.

A subsidiary of YUM Brands along with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, Taco Bell explicitly promotes itself to youth, college students, and Millennials (the youngest of whom start at age 18). Chicago neighbors have expressed concerns that include increased underage access and open containers resulting from this alcohol-soaked brand expansion. In response, the company agreed to hire a security guard on weekend nights – basically a slap in the face of valid concerns of expanded alcohol outlet density and the alcohol-related harm that follows.

Residents are rightfully concerned about alcohol on the menu of a franchise with low prices, long hours, and high underage foot traffic, and do not want the resulting consequences of this potential influx of alcohol to affect their neighborhood. San Francisco residents have been outspoken as well, with 200 residents signing a petition against the new Taco Bell, and more than 240 residents sending official protest forms to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC).

Taco Bell aims to rebrand itself as unique, authentic, healthier, and more upscale. College age and young adult customers prefer places that are less cookie cutter and more authentic. The addition of alcohol to the Taco Bell menu increases the chain’s level of perceived authenticity, just as the lower-calorie menu items encourage the false perception of Taco Bell as a healthy choice. But adding alcoholic beverages to the menu cancels out any improvement from a few different (and unpopular) food choices. (By the way, Taco Bell: alcohol has calories and no nutrients, too.)

Taco Bell hopes its alcohol marketing ploy will bring in significant revenue, and additional fast food brands will come on board to do the same. The outcome? A steep and dangerous increase in alcohol outlet density and alcohol-related harm - and a disturbing public health problem. Adding alcohol to the menu of a fast food giant directly counters the US Community Preventive Services Task Force recommendations to prevent excess alcohol consumption and harm to individuals and communities.

With more than 5,800 locations in the US, and a brand known for the ease with which someone can swing by to pick up an inexpensive taco or twelve, Taco Bell adding alcohol to its menu will spell success for attracting the youth demographic, and disaster for public health.

Spirits producers sponsor Harvard professorship

July 27, 2015


Distilled spirits producers such as Diageo and Bacardi, hiding behind the newly-renamed Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR), generated media attention in July for a new $3.3 million endowed chair at Harvard Medical School's Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA).

FAAR is the new iteration of the Century Council, and an arm of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

The endowment allows spirits producers to ride the coattails of a world-renowned, iconic, Ivy League research brand: Harvard Medical School. And it's not the first or only time Harvard and its Cambridge Health Alliance have joined with the alcohol industry. The Division on Addiction located within CHA has accepted project funding from Big Beer's Heineken as well as spirits producers. Howard Shaffer, the first awardee to this alcohol industry-endowed chair, was a lead investigator on the Heineken and spirits projects.

These funding relationships between alcohol corporations and institutions of higher education, particularly research institutions, are highly problematic and concerning. The relationships allow the alcohol industry to push its "drink responsibly" agenda with increased credibility from association with the Harvard Medical School brand. The "drink responsibly" research agenda places all of the focus and responsibility on individual drinkers to stop drinking the products which are produced and marketed to get them to keep drinking, and drink more of that product. Often research scientists with alcohol industry-endowed salaries or projects sponsored by the industry write op-eds, letters to the editor, commentaries, and articles in scientific journals without acknowledging the source of the research funding or including a statement of their conflict of interest.

If the spirits producers really wanted to "advance alcohol responsibility," they would hold themselves accountable and change their own business practices that make it more likely, and easier, for high-risk drinking and alcohol-related harm to occur. Socially responsible alcohol corporations would stop promoting and funding their own version of public health, while actively opposing the most effective policies available to reduce alcohol-related harm.

As the work from the U.S. Community Preventive Services Task Force makes clear, the cost of alcohol-related harm to states and their residents from excessive drinking is both concerning and modifiable. Costs from alcohol-related harm were more than $5.1 billion in 2006 dollars in Massachusetts - home to the new "drink responsibly" industry-endowed chair at Harvard Medical School.