• Cereals Fingered in Fat Suit
  • April 12, 2005
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • A class-action suit against Kraft Foods Inc., General Mills Inc., and Kellogg Co. alleges that low-sugar cereals falsely claim that they are healthier than their sugar-filled counterparts on the supermarket shelves.

    The complaint filed in California state court targets the reduced-sugar versions of Post's Fruity Pebbles from Kraft, General Mills' Cocoa Puffs and Trix, and Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. It alleges that the defendants claim "that they offer a nutritional advantage over defendants' full-sugar breakfast cereal products, when in fact, the removed sugar is replaced by other carbohydrates, thus offering no significant nutritional advantage." It seeks restitution for the cost of low-sugar cereal bought by California consumers who believed the new cereals were healthier.

    Sugared cereals are a frequent target of health advocates concerned about rates of childhood obesity, and Kraft, General Mills, and Kellogg all have introduced reduced-sugar cereals in recent months.

    However, the carbohydrate count is typically the same. For instance, there are three grams of sugar per serving in reduced-sugar Cocoa Puffs, compared with 13 grams per serving in regular Cocoa Puffs, but the grams of "total carbohydrates" in both products are essentially equal. The reduced-sugar version contains 20 grams of "other carbohydrates," for a total of 23 grams of carbohydrates, while the regular version contains 12 grams of "other carbohydrates," for a total of 25 grams of carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates, whether they are sugars or starches, are metabolized similarly in the body.

    Significance: Food manufacturers, especially those that cater to children, are under increasing pressure to cut back on or eliminate ad campaigns aimed at kids, and to offer healthier alternatives. Any claims or even implications that a product is healthier face scrutiny by regulators, legislatures and, as this lawsuit demonstrates, plaintiff's lawyers looking for targets.