Michael Eisner's Second Act: Junk Food Magnate

Topps Urged to Stop Using Young Girls to Market “Baby Bottle Pop”


WASHINGTON—The Topps candy company has signed a musical trio of twelve- and fourteen-year-old girls to sell Baby Bottle Pop—a powdered candy sold in a miniature baby bottle, eaten by dipping a candy nipple in a sugary powder and licking it off. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on the owner of Topps—former Disney CEO Michael Eisner—to scuttle that deal and join an industry-wide self regulatory group which monitors the way foods are marketed to children.

In late January, The New York Times reported that Topps signed a not-yet-widely-known music group called the Clique Girlz to appear on Baby Bottle Pop packaging and in commercials on Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, and Toon Disney. A previous Topps arrangement with the Jonas Brothers is credited with catapulting that group on to the Disney Channel, according to the paper.

In a letter to Eisner, CSPI said too much candy and other junk food puts young children at greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay, and the company's behavior stands in stark contrast to his former employer. Under Eisner's successor, Robert Iger, Disney conducted a top-to-bottom review of its food marketing practices, instituting reforms at its theme parks and limiting the use of its licensed characters to foods that meet nutrition standards, winning praise from CSPI and other health advocates.

Eisner's Topps hires underage girl group to market Baby Bottle Pop, above.

Photo credit: Jeff Cronin

"This is food porn," said CSPI CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. "I think I speak for millions of parents when I say: Mr. Eisner, please keep your candy nipples out of our children’s mouths. It’s gross for Topps to use young kids to peddle junk food to young kids."

The first three ingredients listed on a Baby Bottle Pop obtained by CSPI are sugar, dextrose, and corn syrup or, in other words, sugar, sugar, and sugar. After those ingredients come unspecified artificial flavors, citric acid, buffered lactic acid, and the artificial colors Blue 1, Yellow 5, Red 40, and Red 3. CSPI urged the Food and Drug Administration to ban those and several other synthetic food dyes because they promote hyperactivity and behavior problems in some children promote hyperactivity and behavior problems in some children.

CSPI also urged Eisner to enroll Topps in the Council of Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative—an industry program that encourages voluntary standards for children's food advertising and manages pledges from 15 member companies, including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg, McDonald's, Nestle, Mars, and PepsiCo. Topps is one of the few major advertisers to children that is not a member of the initiative, along with Chuck E. Cheese, Subway, and YUM! Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC.

Topps is the North Korea of the food industry," said Wootan. "They've isolated themselves from the community of responsible food marketers. They're a rogue player that maintains the lowest standards of conduct."

Baby Bottle Pop containers are just small enough for Topps to avoid disclosing calories on Nutrition Facts labels, but if they were labeled, parents would learn that the product has 120 calories, all from sugar. The product CSPI obtained had 31 grams of candy inside, and cost $1.09, which means that Eisner and colleagues are basically selling sugar for about $15.95 a pound. Considering that sugar retails for as little as 65 cents per pound, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how Eisner might recoup the $385 million he and his business partners paid for the Topps company last year.

Topps also sells other candies, like Bazooka Gum, and trading cards, including the recently released Barack Obama Commemorative Series. A packet of six cost $1.99.

Since the Times article appeared, other published reports indicate that one of the Clique Girlz has left the group and that the Girlz' label is looking for a new member.

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