According to a complaint* filed in California last year by plaintiffs Nancy Coe, Tori Castro, and Pamela Mizzi, General Mills “falsely and misleadingly markets Cheerios Protein to children and adults as a high protein, healthful alternative to Cheerios”.
Despite the brand name and call-outs on the front of pack, argue the plaintiffs, Cheerios Protein does not contain much more protein than regular Cheerios, and has a lot more sugar, but is being presented as a healthier choice, and comes with a premium price tag.
When you compare the Nutrition Facts panels of both products, Cheerios Protein appears to contain more protein than the regular variety (7g vs 3g per serving), the plaintiffs acknowledge. But this is because the serving size for regular Cheerios is 28g whereas the serving size for Cheerios protein is 55g (so 28g of Cheerios Protein would contain 3.56g protein, not much more than regular Cheerios).
“200 calories’ worth of Cheerios Protein has a mere 7/10th of a gram more of protein than 200 calories’ worth of Cheerios," note the plaintiffs.
"Rather than protein, the principal ingredient that distinguishes Cheerios Protein from Cheerios is sugar. Cheerios Protein has 17 times as much sugar per serving, as Cheerios, which General Mills does not prominently disclose.”
Gen Mills: Our products comply with the law
In court papers filed on Friday, however, General Mills argued that the labeling and marketing of Cheerios Protein meets all relevant federal food labeling regulations, including those governing the nutrient content claim ‘good source of protein’, as each serving contains 10% of the DV of high-quality protein. (Cheerios protein contains soy and lentil protein whereas the protein in regular Cheerios is from the oats.)
Moreover, it is not required to make any additional disclosures about sugar, and does not present Cheerios Protein as the better choice, said the company.
Meanwhile, phrases such as ‘Great start’ and ‘fuel up’ – with which the plaintiffs also took issue – constituted “non-actionable puffery that no reasonable consumer would interpret as communicating something definite about nutrients,” argued General Mills.
"For a case about protein content and its labeling, the plaintiffs' complaint betrays a complete misunderstanding of the federal regulations that actually govern that issue."
*The case is Nancy Coe, Tori Castro, Pamela Mizzi, et al v General Mills, Inc., 3:15-cv-05112-TEH