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Family Rivalry: How Kashi's Food is "Real," but Kellogg's Isn't

Kashi has become the latest company to embark upon a campaign touting how real and wholesome its food is, even going so far as to put up information about sketchy and un-real ingredients you shouldn't eat on its web site. This puts Kashi in the awkward position of circuitously criticizing the company that owns it -- Kellogg (K), a manufacturer that makes wide use of most of the nasty, thumbs-down substances Kashi warns against.

Here, for instance, is a seemingly healthy Kellogg cereal -- FiberPlus Berry Yogurt Crunch (it's got fiber plus antioxidants!) -- and its many ingredients:

whole grain wheat, sugar, rice, chicory root fiber, modified wheat starch, soluble corn fiber, whole grain oats, malt flavoring, salt, oat fiber, corn bran, corn syrup, wheat starch, degerminated yellow corn flour, honey, palm kernel oil, modified corn starch, nonfat milk, glycerin, apple puree, fruit juice concentrate (kiwi, strawberry, red raspberry, blueberry), canola oil, natural and artificial flavor, fructooligisaccharides, corn cereal, strawberries, blueberries, vitamin a palmitate, whey, monoglycerides, soy lecithin, corn starch, nonfat yogurt powder (heat treated after culturing), soybean oil, invert sugar, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), cinnamon, guar gum, caramel color, niacinamide, citric acid, vitamin d, BHT (preservative), alpha tocopherol acetate (vitamin E), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), beta carotene for color, folic acid, Red #40, Blue #2, cellulose gum, Green #3, Blue #1, Red #40 Lake, Blue #2 lake, vitamin B12.

Kashi's verdict: Not real. Because, two thirds of the way down (in bold, otherwise you might not find it) is BHT. Kashi's "Ingredient Decoder" gives this chemical preservative a thumbs down -- something to avoid if you want to keep your food real.

Talk nicely about Mom and Dad
Kashi, of course, isn't directly censuring Kellogg, since it's hardly the only company that uses heaps of unreal ingredients. But they're also not coming clean about being a wholly owned part of the Apple Jacks and Pop-Tarts family. The only mention of Kellogg on Kashi's web site is in the 'our history' section -- and you have to really hunt to find it.

In an interview, Keegan Sheridan, Kashi's natural food and lifestyle expert, said that Kashi operates quite independently of Kellogg. The company is only 70 people and has been located in La Jolla, Calif., since it started 27 years ago. "We have our own independent set of food values that we function from and always have. We've been able to remain very consistent," said Sheridan, adding that Kellogg did, in fact, sign off on the "real food" campaign.

An interesting partnership, to say the least
Kashi has always made cereals, crackers and other products for the natural category, which gives their current efforts more credibility than those of, say, Domino's Pizza. Still, "natural" is an unregulated term and can mean a variety of different things. For Kashi, it means no chemical preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, no chemically extracted oils and only whole grains. Kashi also says that 46% of its grain supply is organic, which is a clearly defined standard.

The Kashi-Kellogg marriage is part of a well-established merger strategy in the food business. Kraft (KFT) bought Boca Foods, Group Danone bought Stonyfield Farm, Coke (KO) owns Honest Tea and Odwalla, Mars gobbled up Seeds of Change, and so on and so on.

There are clearly huge benefits to being owned by a large corporation, but when two operations have fundamentally discordant ideas about what food should be and how it should be made, it can make for an interesting partnership, to say the least.

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