WASHINGTON – Kellogg Co. (K), the world's largest cereal maker, has agreed to raise the nutritional value of cereals and snacks it markets to children.
The Battle Creek, Mich., company avoided a lawsuit threatened by parents and nutrition advocacy groups worried about increasing child obesity. Kellogg intends to formally announce its decision Thursday.
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.
Kellogg said it would reformulate products to meet these criteria or stop marketing them to children under 12 by the end of 2008.
"By committing to these nutrition standards and marketing reforms, Kellogg has vaulted over the rest of the food industry," said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "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."
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.
"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-It, Rice Krispies and Famous Amos.
Globally, 50 percent of the products Kellogg markets to children do not meet the criteria, said Mark Baynes, Kellogg's chief marketing officer. A third of the cereals it markets to children in the U.S. fall outside standards.
Pop-Tarts and Froot Loops don't meet the criteria, though most cereals fall inside the calorie guideline, Baynes said. Meeting the sugar and sodium standards could be the most challenging.
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.
_Use licensed characters on mass-media ads directed primarily to kids under 12 or on the front labels of food packages unless they meet the standards.
The advertising agreement does not apply to marketing characters Kellogg owns, like Tony the Tiger, but it does apply to characters the food company licenses, like the cartoon figure Shrek, said Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood.
She 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."
Earlier this month, a Federal Trade Commission study found that half the ads for junk food, sugary cereals and soft drinks are on children's programs, double the percentage 30 years ago. Children between ages 2 and 11 saw approximately 5,500 food ads on television in 2004, half of them on kids' shows with audiences of 50 percent children or greater.
American companies spend about $15 billion a year marketing and advertising to children under age 12, the Institute of Medicine said last year 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.