WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission on June 3 modified an order against the Kellogg Co., prohibiting the Battle Creek, Mich.-based company from making claims about any health benefit of any food unless the claims are backed by scientific evidence and not misleading.
The order follows Kellogg’s settlement with the F.T.C. regarding questionable immunity-related claims for Rice Krispies cereal and comes less than a year after Kellogg settled with the F.T.C. on claims made on its Frosted Mini-Wheats that the cereal was “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%.” At the time of the Frosted Mini-Wheats settlement, Kellogg agreed not to make claims about the 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.
That Kellogg was involved in two separate disputes concerning health claims within the past year appeared to particularly rankle F.T.C. officials.
“We expect more from a great American company than making dubious claims — not once, but twice — that its cereals improve children’s health,” said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the F.T.C. “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.”
Mr. Leibowitz, along with F.T.C. Commissioner Julie Brill, said that even while Kellogg was resolving the F.T.C.’s concern about the Frosted Mini-Wheats campaign in February 2009 the company was preparing to make problematic claims about Rice Krispies, an action he called “particularly disconcerting.”
The F.T.C. settlement with Kellogg in the Frosted Mini-Wheats case was published on July 27, 2009, around the same time that Kellogg began making the claim that Rice Krispies cereal “now helps support your child’s immunity,” with “25% Daily Value of Antioxidants and Nutrients — Vitamins A, B, C, and E.” The back of the Rice Krispies cereal box stated that “Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has been improved to include antioxidants and nutrients that your family needs to help them stay healthy.”
“Kellogg’s dubious claims that Rice Krispies boosts children’s immunity were no doubt months in the making, as they required development by Kellogg’s creative team, designing and printing of new packaging, the production of a new television commercial, and approval by management, before the new campaign’s public roll-out in the summer of 2009,” Mr. Leibowitz and Ms. Brill said. “In light of the timing of the launch of the Rice Krispies campaign, it is reasonable to conclude that planning for the new ‘immunity’ claims was well under way while Kellogg was negotiating and finalizing its agreement with the F.T.C. to not make unsubstantiated ‘cognitive ability’ claims about Frosted Mini-Wheats.
“In 2009, Kellogg had sales of nearly $13 billion and a marketing and advertising budget of over $1 billion. 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. We are also confident that Kellogg has the wherewithal to carefully develop truthful and non-misleading advertising about such health benefits. 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.
“We hope that the Commission action announced today communicates to industry that it has an obligation to be honest with the public, and that the F.T.C. will act swiftly to challenge questionable health claims about children’s food products. Our kids and parents deserve no less.”
Responding to the F.T.C.’s statement, Kellogg said it has “a long history of responsible advertising.”
“We stand behind the validity of our product claims and research, so we agreed to an order that covers those claims,” Kellogg said. “We believe that the revisions to the existing consent agreement satisfied any remaining concerns.”