Under the settlement, Interstate Bakeries Corp., based in Kansas City, Mo., and its advertising agency, Minneapolis-based Campbell Mithun LLC, are barred from making health claims without scientific proof, the Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday.
The companies said they settled to avoid the cost of litigation and because they had already stopped running the ads, which were not increasing sales. By settling, the companies don't admit breaking any law.
"We wholeheartedly agree that all advertising claims should be substantiated," the companies said in statements, adding that they thought they had proof for their claims.
The television ads aired in the second half of 2000 with a fictional spokesman, Professor Wonder, who said that Wonder Bread is a good source of calcium, the FTC said.
In the ad, Professor Wonder said, "Neurons in your brain need calcium to transmit signals. Without it they can be, well, a little slow.''
The ads also claim that calcium can "improve children's brain function and memory," the FTC said.
However, Interstate Bakeries and Campbell did not have "adequate scientific evidence to support their calcium claims," said Mary Engle, a director with the FTC's advertising practices division.
Both Engle and Interstate Bakeries said calcium is important for brain function, but Engle said there is no proof that more calcium improves that or affects memory.
"This case is about ad substantiation and not about whether Wonder Bread is a nutritious product," she said.
While the companies are not paying a fine, future violations of the settlement could result in a $11,000 penalty for each violation.
Interstate Bakeries markets and sells baked goods under numerous national and regional brand names, including Wonder Bread.
The FTC approved the order 4-0 with one commissioner, Sheila Anthony, not voting. There will be a 30-day period for public comments before the settlement is made final.