I was in a grocery store yesterday when yells and curses drew me to the cereal aisle, where two women seemed to be having a total nut-out. One was stomping on several brightly colored cereal boxes and the other was waving a box of the same cereal in the face of anyone who paused long enough.
“Stop them,” a customer yelled at a young stock clerk.
The women weren’t violent, just angry. Really angry.
“This is not right. It has to be illegal. How can they be allowed to do this?,” said the woman in her late 20s who was tromping on a box of Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies.
Gasping for breath and with tears streaming down her face, the mom, Lorraine, pointed to the large type on the front of the box which said, “Now helps support your child’s immunity.”
When she calmed down a bit, Lorraine, who only gave me her first name, explained that her six-year-old son had just been discharged from the hospital after five days of being treated for swine flu.
She admitted she has a long-running, intense hatred of cereal makers because of the sugar-filled products they sell and the pervasive way they advertise to kids.
Her son has ADA and, she said, if the sugar didn’t cause it, it exacerbated it.
The other shopper who participated in the brief, spontaneous protest said she was a hospital nutritionist. She pointed to the immunity claim and said it was “the most flagrant lie” she’d seen used in advertising.
“No one with any sense should believe that there’s any fruit in Fruit Loops, but here we are in the middle of a pandemic and the biggest cereal maker in the world is claiming these Cocoa Krispies will protect children.
“That’s just criminal.”
Lorraine shoved the crushed boxes out of the center of the aisle, mumbled an apology, handed the stock clerk a twenty and left.
I don’t know if what Kellogg is doing is criminal. According to its corporate Web site, it has been named one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” by something called the Ethisphere Institute.
Nevertheless, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera appears to have his own concerns about the legality of Kellogg’s advertising.
Last week, he notified A.D. David Mackay, the president and CEO of Kellogg, that he had 30 days to submit detailed proof and evidence of the accuracy of its claim that Cocoa Krispies really “helps support your child’s immunity” as it purports to do on the front of the box.
In the letter, which he also sent to the Food and Drug Administration and the Justice Department, Herrera said, “The immunity claim may mislead parents into believing that serving this sugary cereal will actually boost their child’s immunity, leaving parents less likely to take more protective steps to protect their children’s health.”
He said Kellogg’s “marketing ploy’’ during a pandemic “may undermine critical public health efforts to prevent the spread of a disease that the president has declared to be a national emergency.”
Kellogg insists it has done nothing wrong.
“Data from the USDA shows that Americans are not getting enough vitamin A, C and E,” Kellogg said in a statement it sent me this morning. They recently added “more positive nutrition” to several cereals by boosting those vitamins, said spokesperson Kris Charles.
“These nutrients have been identified by the Institute of Medicine and other studies as playing an important role in the body’s immune system,” Charles wrote.
I’ve asked Kellogg for the studies that show the specific immunity boost provided by the “more positive nutrition’’ they have added to Cocoa Krispies and other cereals.
San Francisco isn’t the only jurisdiction where law enforcement wants action against allegedly deceptive advertising
On the same day Herrera sent his letter, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called on Kellogg and other cereal manufacturers to stop using a new consumer nutrition guide logo – Smart Choice – on their products.
The “Smart Choice Program” logo is supported by the FDA and was created as a guide on the front of a package to allow shoppers to see that a product meets nutritional clams.
In letters to ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Inc., Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Inc., Riviana Foods, Sun-Maid and Unilever, Blumenthal called on all participating companies to stop using the Smart Choices logo to avoid misleading and confusing consumers.
Blumenthal’s office says the FDA is looking at the AG’s concerns.