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Kellogg's Not Immune to Criticism

From our "What Are They Thinking?" file: Kellogg’s is currently under fire for splashing a huge “Immunity” banner across its best-selling Rice Krispies brand just as parental concern over the H1N1 virus is reaching a feverish pitch.

rice_krispies.jpeg“Now helps support your child’s immunity,” is the exact phrasing, along with a graphic touting that the cereal's increased fortification with 25% of the daily values of antioxidants and nutrients like Vitamins A, B, C and E.

This is a cereal that still lists sugar as the second ingredient. Even more of an eyebrow-raiser is Rice Krispies’ companion Cocoa Krispies, which sports the same claim on its box. Cocoa Krispies also contains sugar, high fructose corn syrup and trans-fat, according to the ingredients panel. But ignore that. It's fortified with vitamins to help ward off the child-killer swine flu.

For its part, Kellogg’s claims the fortification decision was made a year ago, well before the current flu scare. Knowing that recipe tinkering can be an involved process, I can’t quibble with that. However I do recall visiting Unilever’s corporate test kitchen right after the low-carb craze engulfed the country some years ago, when I got to taste low-carb versions of their best-selling salad dressings, mayonnaise and the like.

The executives I met with proudly announced that reformulating the products took the company a matter of weeks. I can’t imagine what’s so complicated about boosting vitamin percentages that it took the food scientists at Kellogg's a year.

Kellogg’s just publicly disassociated itself from the disgraced Smart Choices nutrition labeling program a few weeks ago, and now they’ve invited the scrutiny of USA Today, leading nutritionists and plenty of food industry critics with this latest initiative.

Everyone, including the FDA, is quickly becoming sensitive to these wellness and nutrition labeling programs that end up being exposed as self-serving marketing stunts. Perhaps most disconcerting, from this writer’s point of view, is that, left unchecked, consumers will become inured to all on-pack nutrition guidance and remain just as confused as they were before.

Believe me, it’s been an eye-opener for yours truly as well. The more I read — both as a reporter and as a consumer — the more suspicious I get. And that’s the ultimate downer here. I’m sure I’m not alone.

For that, the food industry has no one to blame but itself.

(Photo credit: Kellogg's)