MINNEAPOLIS — General Mills, Inc. on Dec. 9 publicly committed to reducing sugar in cereals advertised to children to single-digit grams of sugar per serving. The company’s initiative will extend globally to 130 countries. Cereal Partners Worldwide, a joint venture between General Mills and Nestle S.A. that focuses on the global cereal market outside of North America, will adopt similar commitments.
Examples of General Mills’ Big G cereals eaten by children include Lucky Charms (currently 11 grams of sugar per serving) and Trix (11 grams). Honey Nut Cheerios (9 grams) already is in single-digit grams of sugar per serving.
"Our first target was to reduce sugar in cereals advertised to children to 12 grams of sugar or less," said Jeff Harmening, president of the Big G cereal division. "Many were already lower, but some were not. So we put in place a plan to reduce sugar levels in a series of steps in those cereals and others, while continuing to deliver great taste.
"As a result, we have already reduced sugar in many cereals, some by as much as 20%, and by spring General Mills cereals advertised to children will all have 11 grams of sugar per serving or less."
To ensure the cereals maintain their taste, the reductions will continue in a series of smaller steps.
"Maintaining great taste while continuing to reduce sugar is a challenge," Mr. Harmening said. "It requires technology, time and investment, but we’re doing it. We are committed to reaching single-digit levels."
While reducing sugar in cereal advertised to children, General Mills also has increased the content of whole grain and such nutrients as calcium and vitamin D. Every Big G cereal now provides at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving. The company fortified its entire line of children’s cereals with calcium and vitamin D in 2008.
"Ready-to-eat cereals, including presweetened cereals, account for only 5% of the sugar in children’s diets," Mr. Harmening said. "Still, we know that some consumers would prefer to see cereals that are even lower in sugar, especially children’s cereals. General Mills has responded — and we are committing to reduce sugar levels even more."
The General Mills’ announcement came weeks after Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a study that stated cereals marketed to children have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium than cereals marketed to adults for adult consumption. The study rated cereals on a scale up to 100. A score of 62 or greater defined a cereal as a healthy product. The researchers gave Minneapolis-based General Mills an average nutrition score of 40 for its cereals marketed directly to children. Kellogg and Post each scored 42.
Earlier this year, The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., said by the end of 2010 nearly 80% of its ready-to-eat cereals will be at least good to excellent sources of fiber.
General Mills contends ready-to-eat cereal is the No. 1 source of whole grain in a child’s diet and that whole grain is the No. 1 ingredient in every cereal that the company advertises to children.
"Ready-to-eat cereal really is one of the best breakfast choices you could make," said Susan Crockett, vice-president, Health and Nutrition, and director of the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition at General Mills. "More frequent cereal eaters tend to have healthier body weight — and lower body mass index measures. It’s true of men. It’s true of women. It’s true of kids. And that includes people who eat presweetened cereals."