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Food for thought, but not for healthy bodies

Submitted by on Monday, 26 October 2009 No Comment

E tu, Cheerios?

I don’t know why I’m surprised. Everyone’s doing it, because children’s cereal is such a lucrative market. I knew you’d jumped the shark with Honey Nut Cheerios, but at least you were up front about that, blatantly marketing higher-sugar, lower-fiber cereal to kids. I could almost respect that: You air the commercials, I explain to the guys why we’re not going to buy it because it’s not all that healthy. We both knew the drill.

But your latest ploy – the 3-year-old Fruity Cheerios, which just now showed up in stores where we shop – is slimy, and I’m not talking about the texture of the cereal after it sits in the milk.

At first I thought you were wearing some sort of Halloween costume, all tarted up in garish red, orange, purple and green. “You look exactly like Fruit Loops!” I glared accusingly, breathing a sigh of relief that the guys weren’t around to start begging.

I took a closer look. Maybe you’re not so bad – you are, after all, Cheerios.

The Fruity Cheerios label was reassuring – but, then, so was the one on regular Cheerios before the Food and Drug Administration smacked you and people started suing. Natural flavors! Whole grain guaranteed!

My Oscar Mayer meter had hit the red zone by the time I hit your Web site: “They want a sweetened cereal, but you want to give them the whole-grain goodness of Cheerios. Helping your kids eat right doesn’t have to be a struggle.” Besides, it’s only nine grams of sugar per serving, the Web site says.

So let’s examine these claims:

Natural flavors: Yes, but beyond pear puree concentrate, you don’t tell us what they are. And there’s nothing natural about Red Dye 40 and Yellow Dye 6.

Whole grain: Yes, and a whopping two grams of fiber per serving. One slice of whole-grain bread has almost that much – 1.9 grams.

Nine grams of sugar: Here’s where you get really cute, comparing your nine grams to the 12 grams in the forbidden Fruit Loops. Except the nine grams is in three-quarters of a cup of Fruity Cheerios. The 12 is for a full cup of Fruit Loops. Do the math. It’s the exact same sugar content.  Didn’t think we’d notice that one, did you?

Ay, but you did know exactly what would happen the second a kiddo locked on to the brightly colored box. “But, Mom! It’s Cheerios! We eat them all the time.”

When it comes to child-targeted cereal advertising, General Mills is the leader, according to a report released today from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.  General Mills doesn’t do the blitz for Fruity Cheerios that it does for some of its other brands, but, then, it doesn’t have to.

It’s banking on kids clamoring for a colorful box with a trusted name that hides cereal just one toucan shy of gastronomical garbage.

Copyright Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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