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    EDITOR’S NOTE: Cereal Under Siege

    Industry pushes back against negative claims

    In recent years, the cereal industry has faced criticisms from consumer groups and health advocates about the nutritional value of its products and how they’ve been marketed, especially to children. These criticisms have led to cereal manufacturers’ participation in such efforts as the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) and overall industry efforts to reformulate products to contain less sugar, fat and sodium and more nutrients. A recent report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale in New Haven, Conn., however, found that such actions haven’t been enough to tip the scales toward substantive change.

    “While companies improved the nutritional quality of most cereals marketed to children, the authors report that total media spending to promote child-targeted cereals has increased by 34 percent from 2008 to 2011,” the center noted of the 2012 Cereal Facts Report. “According to the report, cereal companies continue to push their least nutritious products directly to children and children continue to see more advertising for cereals than for any other category of packaged food or beverage.”

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) responded with a defense of cereal manufacturers’ efforts to make their products healthier and their marketing practices with regard to children more responsible. The Washington, D.C.-based trade group also cited a range of scientific research to bolster its claim that cereal is one of the healthiest breakfast options around. Research on the health benefits of cereal is also top of mind for Kellogg Co. which recently released an updated version of Cereal: The Complete Story, its collection of scientific findings on the food’s nutritional value.

    Currently, there seems to be a disconnect between what the cereal industry believes it has already accomplished and what consumer and health experts think it can still achieve. One thing is for sure: The present difference of opinion shouldn’t be used as an excuse to end the considerable progress that’s been made. Both sides need to continue to work together, and find common solutions for how to sell the healthiest product possible to some of its most enthusiastic fans – kids.

    One way forward could be to involve shoppers themselves more intimately in the improvement process. It’s an idea that’s elaborated on further in a PG exclusive guest column, “Nurturing Better-informed Eaters,” by Vestcom International’s Jeff Weidauer, who points out that when it comes to in-store nutrition programs, shoppers need to be able understand how such systems work, rather than be blinded by sometimes impenetrable science.

    Weidauer’s views provide good food for thought for the cereal aisle’s diverging camps, which are urged to keep the lines of communication open with consumers to find out exactly what they want and need for themselves and their families – along with such important considerations as taste, convenience and cost – and then factor all of that into the ongoing quest to make the breakfast staple better for everyone.

    One area in which consumer outreach seems to be paying off is in programs aimed at previously long-neglected low-income shoppers, who have had, historically speaking, few opportunities to purchase fresh, healthy, affordable food. Local initiatives, such as those from Share our Strength and Walmart, and EmblemHealth and Harvest Home Farmer's Market, are helping to turn this once dire situation around. Such efforts demonstrate just how much the industry cares for all of its consumers, so keep up the good work!
     

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