Marketplace Report: Kellogg's Cereal Ads

Kellogg's says it will stop advertising its breakfast cereals to children under 12 unless the cereal meets certain nutritional guidelines. Steve Tripoli of Marketplace notes that the decision comes on the heels of a threatened lawsuit by several advocacy groups.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.

Kellogg's says it will stop advertising its super-sugary breakfast cereals to kids under 12. It did so under threat of a lawsuit. Steve Tripoli from MARKETPLACE is here to tell us more. And Steve, was this decision made under duress?

STEVE TRIPOLI: It was, under the threat of this lawsuit. That's right.

BRAND: And so why did it decides to make this decision, Kellogg's?

TRIPOLI: Well, you know, they are not sacrificing as much as you might think. The folks who threatened this lawsuit say they're happy with the outcome, but it's no homerun for them. I talked to Michael Jacobson at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who was one of the guys threatening to sue Kellogg's, and here is his take on what Kellogg's agreed to.

Mr. MICHAEL JACOBSON (Center for Science in the Public Interest): The guidelines are compromised. Some of the guidelines are good, like no trans fat, the limit on sodium. The limit on sugar is generous. It would have been nice if the guidelines said the products had to be low in sugar, made with whole grains. But it's a good start.

TRIPOLI: And you know, Madeleine, that brings up what we might call the Frosted Flakes loophole here. Advertising Frosted Flakes is not restricted under this agreement. That sugar limit that Michael Jacobson just referred to is three teaspoons per serving, which many nutritionists think is high at breakfast. But Frosted Flakes comes in just under that, so Kellogg's can still sell them to kids.

BRAND: But no Fruit Loop loophole?

TRIPOLI: Yes. No Fruit Loop hole. That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Okay, so what's are the guidelines?

TRIPOLI: Well, they're pretty straightforward. You can't advertise a product to kids if a serving has more than 200 calories or any trans fat or more than two grams of saturated fat. There's also that sugar limit, plus a limit of 230 milligrams of sodium, which is about a tenth of the recommended daily ceiling for salt.

BRAND: And how does this affect Kellogg's entire product line?

TRIPOLI: Well, it pulls about half of their products from being advertised to kids, but it still leaves them with a lot to sell. And by the way, they might reformulate some of their products to meet the guidelines. But you know, there's more to this as well. Kellogg's will not use licensed characters like Shrek or brand name toys to promote foods that don't meet the guidelines.

And they will not advertise at all in any school that has kids under 12, which echoes in agreement some other food companies like General Mills and McDonald's agreed to last November.

BRAND: Steve, what are the ultimate goals of the people who were threatening to sue?

TRIPOLI: Well, they like to settlement as an incremental step, but Michael Jacobson, who I spoke to, says they hope the public will push for more changes as a result of seeing a settlement like this. And they hope Kellogg's example will move other food companies to see if they can gain something if they get out front on this issue. You know, though, Madeleine, I'm worried about unintended consequences here.

BRAND: Yeah. Like what?

TRIPOLI: Well, like an outbreak of promiscuity if we can't advertise corn flakes. Thank God, I think they're okay under this agreement.

BRAND: Wait, what? Promiscuity, what are you talking about?

TRIPOLI: Well, I was doing some research about this in Wikipedia today and it says that Dr. Kellogg, who invented cornflakes a century ago, did it as part of the bland Seventh Day Adventist diet; it was supposed to lower the sex drive. So I think our kids especially might still need those corn flakes.

BRAND: Okay. You too. Thanks, Steve. That's Steve Tripoli of Public Radio's daily business show, MARKETPLACE. It's produced by American Public Media.

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