Kellogg Co., for the second time in a year, crossed the line when touting health claims on its cereals.
The Federal Trade Commission found fault with assertions the company made about various types of its Rice Krispies cereal.
As a result, the FTC said Thursday the company has agreed to abide by new restrictions under a settlement written last year regarding health claims the company made about its Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal.
"We expect more from a great American company than making dubious claims—not once but twice—that its cereals improve children's health," said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC.
On packages, Kellogg claimed Rice Krispies "now helps support your child's immunity" with "25% daily value of antioxidants and nutrients—vitamins A,B, C and E." The back of boxes stated that Rice Krispies "has been improved to include antioxidants and nutrients that your family needs to help them stay healthy."
In a statement, Kellogg said it has a long history of responsible advertising. "We stand behind the validity of our product claims and research, so we agreed to an order that covers those claims," the company said.
The FTC's actions underscore the federal government's increasing scrutiny of food makers' marketing practices, including their efforts to put forth health claims.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March warned 16 food and beverage makers against making product claims that don't adhere strictly to federal labeling rules. A few months earlier, a federal working group proposed limiting advertising aimed at children to foods considered healthful. Last year, the FDA began work on proposed criteria that companies would have to meet to make nutritional claims on packages.
Last year the FDA warned General Mills Inc. over its Cheerios cereal, saying the box's claims about heart benefits contain "serious violations" of federal law.
In a warning letter the agency made public, the FDA said statements that Cheerios "is clinically proven to help lower cholesterol" make the cereal a drug under federal law.
General Mills, based in Golden Valley, Minne., at the time, said the claim that Cheerios can "lower your cholesterol 4% in six weeks" had been used for more than two years, and the box cited a clinical study involving Cheerios. The company Thursday said it remains in discussions with the FDA.
Last year, the FTC found Kellogg had made advertising claims that its Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved kids' attentiveness by nearly 20%. In a July 2009 settlement, Kellogg was barred from making claims about the benefits to cognitive health, process or function provided by any cereal or morning food or snack unless the claims were true and substantiated, the FTC said.
That order has now been revised after the FTC investigated health claims Kellogg made about Rice Krispies cereals.
The expanded settlement prohibits the company from making claims about any health benefit of any food unless the claims are backed by scientific evidence and aren't misleading.
Heather Hippsley of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection said all of the offending language has been excised regarding both Rice Krispies and Frosted Mini-Wheats.
The FTC's Mr. Leibowitz said, "Next time, Kellogg needs to stop and think twice about the claims it's making before rolling out a new ad compaign, so parents can make the best choices for their children."
A consent agreement doesn't constitute an admission of a violation of law. But each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for every advertisement, or every consumer who sees one, or other measures. Fines can add up to millions of dollars.
Kellogg, which had revenue of nearly $13 billion last year, is the world's largest cereal maker by sales as well as a leading producer of cookies, crackers, frozen waffles and toaster pastries. It doesn't break out its sales by product category, just by geographical regions.
Susan Carey, The Wall Street Journal. June 4, 2010
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