The three little guys on Rice Krispies boxes are in trouble for claiming that their cereal supports the immune systems of children. The Federal Trade Commission announced on June 3 that Kellogg Co. had agreed to pull back on health claims for the puffy cereal.
In a statement, commission chairman Jon Leibowitz said, “We expect more from a great American company than making dubious claims – not once, but twice – that its cereals improve children’s health. Next time, Kellogg needs to stop and think twice about the claims it’s making before rolling out a new ad campaign, so parents can make the best choices for their children.”
In a joint statement, Leibowitz and commissioner Julie Brill used stronger language: “As a trusted, long-established company with a presence in millions of American homes, Kellogg must not shirk its responsibility to do the right thing when it advertises the food we feed our children.”
Kellog had a run-in with the FTC over its Frosted Mini-Wheats that resulted in the company’s admission that health claims made for the cereal were false and a settlement order in February 2009. Kellogg agreed not to claim “benefits to cognitive health, process, or function provided by any cereal or any morning food or snack food unless the claims were true and substantiated,” according to the statement on the Rice Krispies order.
Leibowitz and Brill said in their joint statement that even as Kellogg was pulling back on the Mini-Wheats claims, it must have been moving forward with health claims on the Krispies cereals.
“The company clearly has the means and ability to carefully test its children’s food products to determine if the products in fact provide health benefits for kids,” the commissioners said. “We are also confident that Kellogg has the wherewithal to carefully develop truthful and nonmisleading advertising about such health benefits.”
Kellogg responded with a statement saying that it stands behind the validity of product claims and research. “So we agreed to an order that covers those claims,” their statement said.
The expanded order now prohibits Kellogg from “making claims about any health benefit of any food unless the claims are backed by scientific evidence and not misleading.”
This is familiar ground for makers of nutritional supplements, but not so much for a manufacturer whose advertising icons include three guys in hats and a cuckoo bird. (Cocoa Puffs had the claim, too.) Kellogg, and General Mills whose Cheerios heart-health claims drew a warning letter from the Federal Drug Administration, are now learning what it’s like when you emblazon words like “immunity” and “antioxidants” on product packaging.