LOS ANGELES – Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) Wednesday said it would stop advertising products like Oreo cookies and Kool-Aid beverages to children younger than 12 as it works to deflect criticism that such foods contribute to childhood obesity.
The move means ads for some of Kraft's best-known snack foods and sugary cereals will no longer appear during television shows such as cartoons, which are viewed primarily by children ages 6 to 11.
The change will also affect advertising in radio and print media, Kraft said.
"We recognize that parents are concerned about the mix of food products being advertised to younger children," Mark Berlind, Kraft's executive vice president of global corporate affairs, said in a statement.
Increased media focus on the roughly 15 percent of U.S. children and adolescents and two-thirds of adults who are overweight has led Kraft in the last year to remove artery-clogging trans fats from its snack foods, repackage some in 100-calorie packs, and cease its marketing in schools.
Such moves by Kraft and others in the food industry, which in 2003 saw McDonald's Corp. (MCD) become the target of a high-profile obesity lawsuit, help insulate companies from litigation blaming specific foods for making people, and particularly children, fat, one expert said.
"The whole area of child nutrition is one where you want to be squeaky clean," said Bob Goldin, executive vice president with food industry research firm Technomic. "That's where there is concern about liability, and certainly public scrutiny."
As demand for calorie- and fat-laden products slows, Kraft has de-emphasized foods like Oreo cookies, which have 53 calories and 2.5 grams of fat each, according to CalorieKing.com (search), which tracks nutritional information.
As part of that effort, the Northfield, Ill. company also said Wednesday it was introducing a new food labeling program in the United States that would feature a "flag" on packaging for products that meet certain nutritional criteria.
Those criteria include providing protein, calcium, fiber or whole grain at "nutritionally meaningful levels" and staying within specific limits on calories, fat, sodium and sugar.
It did not say what those limits were.
Some of the products earnings the "Sensible Solution" flag include Kraft 2-percent milk shredded reduced fat cheese and Post Shredded Wheat (search) cereal.
Kraft is also developing new products for children that meet the "Sensible Solution" criteria, spokeswoman Nancy Daigler said.
Kraft rival PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) instituted a similar labeling program last year on products like Baked Lays potato chips, Diet Pepsi cola, and Tropicana orange juice. Pepsi said Wednesday it will launch a major retail promotion of products carrying its "Smart Spot" label next month.
Throughout 2005, Kraft said it will increase advertising in media seen mainly by children ages 6 to 11 of products that meet the new guidelines, including sugar-free Kool-Aid beverages and reduced-sugar Fruity Pebbles Cereal.
In 2006, as existing commitments expire, the company said ads of all products not meeting the criteria will be phased out completely around the world in media aimed at children 6 to 11 years old.
Kraft said it will continue to advertise all its products in television, radio and print media seen mainly by parents and "all-family audiences." It also said it will continue its existing policy of not advertising in television, radio and print media with a primary audience under age 6.
The move by Kraft is expected to prompt similar measures by other major food manufacturers, according to Goldin.
"You get a lot of favorable publicity for it," he said.
Kraft shares were down 12 cents at $34.12 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. Kraft is majority owned by Altria Group Inc. (MO).