General Mills' push to promote Cheerios as gluten-free has run into a major public relations issue as it was forced to recall thousands of boxes of cereal marked gluten-free that actually contain wheat.
The recall, announced Monday, comes just weeks after the cereal maker embarked on a major marketing push promoting original Cheerios and some other varieties as gluten-free.
We're so sorry to announce we're recalling some boxes of Cheerios/Honey Nut Cheerios. Please view image below & share pic.twitter.com/L9gxUutA3j— Cheerios (@cheerios) October 5, 2015
The brand's gluten-free advertising campaign includes the story of an engineer who helped create the new version of the product after finding out that his daughter-in-law feels sick after eating gluten.
General Mills said the voluntary recall covers Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios cereal made at its Lodi, Calif, facility over roughly two weeks in July. The company said "an isolated incident resulted in wheat flour being inadvertently introduced into the gluten free oat flour system," and therefore the cereal may contain wheat even though it is labeled as gluten-free.
JP Morgan analyst Ken Goldman said the recall affects about 1.8 million boxes, or roughly 1% of annual Cheerios production. "Our biggest concern is over reputational risk, because the new gluten-free Cheerios just launched," Mr. Goldman said in a research note. He said that in a worst-case scenario, the "new messaging around gluten-free characteristics will be impaired," and the company could face high costs as well as the product missing from shelves.
General Mills said it would pull affected cereals from retailers' warehouses and store shelves.
Last month, General Mills said it planned to place 35,000 pallets of Cheerios on display as part of the gluten-free push, calling it one of the largest merchandising events in the history of its cereal business.
The recall comes just days after General Mills tapped Mindshare as its new media agency of record.