In the face of a lawsuit, cereal-maker Kellogg is clamping down on marketing sugary cereals and snacks to kids, reports CBS News consumer safety correspondent Nancy Cordes. It's a move food safety advocates hope will spread to the rest of the brands in the cereal aisle.
Kellogg Co. said Thursday it will increase the nutritional value of the cereals and snacks targeted at children or stop marketing those products to them altogether
The company said it won't promote foods in TV, radio, print or Web site ads that reach audiences at least half of whom are under age 12 unless a single serving of the product meets these standards:
- No more than 200 calories.
- No trans fat and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat.
- No more than 230 milligrams of sodium, except for Eggo frozen waffles.
- No more than 12 grams of sugar, not counting sugar from fruit, dairy and vegetables.
The cereals that would fall into the "too sugary" category include Apple Jacks, Cocoa Krispies, Corn Puffs, Froot Loops, Raisin Bran, and Smacks, reports Cordes.
Frosted Flakes made the cut, however. It has exactly 12 grams of sugar, while Raisin Bran has 19.
"Because a lot of that sugar comes from fruit (the raisins), that's OK," explains Cordes. "The problem with Raisin Bran is that it goes over the sodium cutoff. So does Rice Krispies."
Kellogg was facing pressure from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the same organization that dropped a lawsuit against Kentucky Fried Chicken only after it promised to stopping frying chicken with trans fats.
"Over the years, Kellogg has marketed so many foods that are so high in sugar. They call them breakfast cereals. They should really be called breakfast candies," CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said.
CSPI counted 54 commercials for Kellogg products in 27½ hours of Saturday morning television; 98 percent of them were for foods the Center says had poor nutritional quality.
"Have you seen ads for those cereals on the TV?" Cordes asked a young viewer.
"A lot!" replied 9-year-old Nagaen Fazeli, adding that she has seen the commercials on Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon Network.
Jacobson's nutrition advocacy group, along with two Massachusetts parents and the Boston-based Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood, had served notice in January 2006 of intent to sue Kellogg and the Nickelodeon cable TV network under a Massachusetts law to stop them from marketing junk food to kids.
Center spokesman Jeff Cronin said Kellogg contacted the plaintiffs shortly thereafter and began negotiating the new standards, so the lawsuit was not filed and will not be filed.
"By committing to these nutrition standards and marketing reforms, Kellogg has vaulted over the rest of the food industry," said Jacobson. "This commitment means that parents will find it a little easier to steer their children toward healthy food choices — especially if other food manufacturers and broadcasters follow Kellogg's lead."
"We are pleased to work collaboratively with industry and advocacy groups to unveil these standards," said David Mackay, Kellogg's CEO. "We feel the Kellogg Nutrient Criteria set a new standard for responsibility in the industry."
With 2006 sales of almost $11 billion, Kellogg is not only the No. 1 cereal-maker but also a leading producer of snack foods. Its brands include Kellogg's, Keebler, Pop-Tarts, Eggo, Cheez-Its, Rice Krispies and Famous Amos.
The agreement disqualifies Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its, some Keebler cookies and crackers and dozens of other products made by Kellogg and the brands it owns, reports Cordes.
"What this means is that foods that don't meet the criteria, which is a huge number, like 50 percent of our products, will either have to be reformulated or retargeted," Kellogg chief marketing officer Mark Baynes told CBS News.
Kellogg also has agreed to stop using popular cartoon characters to market sugary or fatty foods to young children. That means no more Shrek or SpongeBob Squarepants on the box or in the commercial.
"That's a great idea because you can't even take your child to the grocery store because they're clamoring for the products with cartoon characters on them," commented CBS Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, the mother of three young children.
The advertising agreement does not apply to marketing characters Kellogg owns, like Tony the Tiger.
Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood, said Kellogg was the first food company to agree to restrict advertising using licensed media characters like Shrek.
"These characters play an incredibly important role in children's lives. Kids see them every day; they have toys of them," Linn said. "The media characters are much more powerful (than company-owned characters like Tony the Tiger). The food companies want to keep using them because they sell a lot of food; kids really respond to them."
Kellogg also announced that it will continue to refrain from advertising to children under age 6, and will not in the future:
- Advertise to children any foods in schools and preschools that include kids under age 12.
- Sponsor placement of any of its products in any medium primarily directed at kids under age 12.
- Use branded toys connected to any foods that do not meet the nutrition standards.
American companies spend about $15 billion a year marketing and advertising to children under age 12, the Institute of Medicine said when it warned that one-third of American children are obese or at risk for becoming obese.
In response, Kellogg and McDonald's Corp. joined eight other major food and drink companies last November in an industry-sponsored pledge to promote more healthy foods and exercise in their child-oriented advertising. A year earlier, Kraft Foods Inc. had promised to curb ads to young children for snack foods, including Oreos and Kool-Aid.