Kellogg Gets the Message and Changes Its Own

Snap, crackle and pop.

That sound could herald the end of advertisements touting unhealthy cereals and snacks to kids.

Kellogg Co., the world's leading maker of cereals with close to $11 billion in 2006 sales, unveiled new standards Thursday for marketing its products to children under 12.

Additionally, Kellogg will place new labels on the fronts of cereal boxes that highlight some of the nutrition information from the side panel.

Like its Pop-Tarts, Kellogg needed some heat before it was ready to rise to the challenge. Its new initiative stems from a settlement with parents from Massachusetts and two advocacy groups who had threatened to sue Kellogg for unfairly advertising to young audiences.

"The basis behind the suit was that Kellogg was marketing unhealthy food to children under the age of 8," said Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one of the advocacy groups.

"Until the age of 8, kids don't understand persuasive intent, the fundamental basis of marketing, so the thought was that it was unfair to market to them."

Time to L'Eggo of Old Practices

The terms of the settlement are twofold.

First, the company agreed to create a set of standards it dubs Kellogg Global Nutrient Criteria." These criteria will apply to nearly all the food it sells worldwide, including Keebler snacks, Cheez-Its and food under the Morningstar Farms label.

The criteria restrict the number of calories per serving of a Kellogg's food to 200 calories or less, with fewer than 2 grams of saturated fat, 12 grams of sugar and 230 milligrams of sodium.

Food that does not meet these conditions -- such as the current versions of Froot Loops and Pop-Tarts -- will be either reformulated or no longer marketed to children under 12 by the end of next year.

Kellogg acknowledged that almost half of the food it currently advertises to kids does not meet these standards.

Responding to these criteria, Dr. David Katz at the Yale University School of Medicine said, "A number of those are very reasonable, but they only tell us what's going to be capped -- but not what's in the product.

"I guess it's a move in the right direction, but it's clearly not far enough."

Second, the company will place labels in the upper-right corner on the front of its cereal boxes that will give quick information on calories and the amount of sugar, saturated fat, sodium and some of the vitamins and minerals. These amounts will also be given as a percentage of the daily value recommended to people who eat about 2,000 calories a day.

But Katz said such a measure for cereals is flaky at best.

Labels that emphasize percentages in terms of a 2,000 calorie diet "are not relevant for most children under the age of 12," he said.

According to Dr. Allan Walker, director of the division of nutrition at Harvard Medical School, a 2,000-calorie diet is appropriate for an adult. He said children need fewer calories but calls this labeling system a "good start."

Kellogg Co. has also pledged to stop all marketing in schools with children under the age of 12 and to stop using characters outside the brand, such as Shrek, in advertising foods that do not meet its nutrient criteria.

Join the Club

In a statement released to the press, president and chief executive officer of Kellogg Co. David Mackay said, "The initiatives we're announcing today set a new standard of responsibility.

"We encourage other companies to join us in the initiative in the United States, Canada and Mexico," said Dr. Celeste Clark, senior vice president of global nutrition and corporate affairs at Kellogg Co., during Thursday's press conference.

Such a move by the industry as a whole would be a positive step, said CCFC's Linn.

"My hope is that other companies will follow suit," she said. "Marketing is a factor in so many of the problems facing children today. It's not the sole cause, but it's a factor, in childhood obesity [and] eating disorders."

Katz said he believes other companies will start similar programs. "I think it's very likely that there'll be other lawsuits if they don't; they can read the writing on the wall."