The company came under fire recently when its Cocoa Puffs cereal – among sugary cereals made by other companies – was included in the Smart Choices food labeling program, despite containing 33 percent sugar, or 11 grams per serving. Widespread criticism of its inclusion led the Food and Drug Administration to announce it would carry out an investigation of the scheme, and the program was dropped in October.
Nevertheless, spokesperson for General Mills Kirstie Foster denied that the controversy over the Smart Choices program had prompted the move.
She told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “In fact, we began making changes in 2007. We listened to our customers. Many of them wanted to see lower sugar levels in children’s cereals.”
General Mills has already cut sugar levels in cereals that it advertises to children and these further cuts build on the company’s previous work in this area.
President of General Mills’ Big G cereal division Jeff Harmening said: “Our first target was to reduce sugar in cereals advertised to children to 12 grams of sugar or less… As a result, we have already reduced sugar in many cereals, some by as much as 20 percent, and by spring General Mills cereals advertised to children will all have 11 grams of sugar per serving or less.”
Reducing the sugar content in Cocoa Puffs, for example, to nine grams per serving would mean a drop of 25 percent from original levels and 18 percent from the current level. However, the company does not know when it will be possible to meet this goal.
“We are going to continue to make reductions in a series of small steps,” said Foster. “It’s a technical challenge.”
The company would not comment on the precise reformulation of its cereals, but said that it would not use artificial sweeteners to compensate for lower sugar content.
General Mills’ sugar reduction announcement comes just weeks after researchers at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that cereals marketed directly to children have 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium than cereals marketed for adult consumption.
Some high-sugar cereals made by General Mills, including Boo Berry and Franken Berry, will not be affected by the cuts, as they are not advertised during children’s television programming or on other media targeted at children. The company has already cut sugar content in both cereals from 15g per serving in 2007 to 12g per serving.
The cereals affected by the pledge are Cocoa Puffs, Cocoa Puffs Combos, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cookie Crisp, Cookie Crisp Sprinkles, Frosted Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Reese’s Puffs, and Trix.