Frito-Lay Is Jacking Up Cracker Jacks -- With Caffeine

Planned Line Extension Draws Criticism From CSPI

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PepsiCo's Frito-Lay is putting some more pop in its Cracker Jacks.

A new line extension called "Cracker Jack 'd" will hit stores soon, including a caffeinated variety called Power Bites that is drawing criticism from a health-advocacy group that fears the snack might make little Johnny a bit too hyper.

"Boxes of Cracker Jack are famous for having a toy surprise inside. But what parent suspects that Cracker Jack might come with a surprising dose of a mildly addictive stimulant drug?" the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Wednesday. CSPI, known for taking on big brands for a variety of reasons, charges that the planned snack violates federal food rules. "Caffeine is generally recognized as safe only in cola-type beverages and only at concentrations of 0.02% or less (about 72 mg per 12 oz.)," the organization said in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A Frito-Lay spokesman told Ad Age that Power Bites will include "two flavors that will contain coffee, a natural source of caffeine, as an ingredient." He added: "We stand by the safety of all products in the Cracker Jack 'd line, including those that contain coffee. It is worth pointing out the regulation referenced in CSPI's letter to FDA speaks to caffeine -- not coffee -- and is not an exhaustive list of the safe uses of caffeine in foods and beverages. Rather it represents one particular recognized safe use."

While Frito-Lay is still finalizing the product, Power Bites are expected to "contain approximately 70 mg of caffeine from coffee in each 2 oz. package," he said.

The line extension comes as Frito-Lay seeks to expand its lineup of premium and value brands -- which include Cracker Jacks -- to appeal to an increasingly bifurcated consumer group. The Jack 'd lineup will include "a variety of products, including snack mixes [and] popcorn clusters" in addition to the Power Bites, the Frito-Lay spokesman said.

The website shows what potentially might be on the way.

In a letter to PepsiCo executives, CSPI said "caffeine is a mildly addictive stimulant drug that is totally inappropriate to be included in foods consumed by children," noting that effects include "anxiety, restlessness, irritability, excitability and insomnia."

The Frito-Lay spokesman said: "Cracker Jack 'd is a product line specifically developed for adult consumers and will not be marketed to children. All marketing for the products will be exclusively aimed at adult consumers, and the package design and appearance are wholly different from Cracker Jack to ensure there is no confusion among consumers. The presence of coffee and the caffeine that comes with it is clearly called out on both the front and back of the package."

CSPI also took issue with Kraft Foods Group's new Mio "energy" drink flavoring product, which contains caffeine, as well as Jelly Belly's "Extreme Sport Beans." Kraft markets Mio to young adults. Sport Beans target athletes.

"Unless the FDA begins enforcing its regulations, I fear that we'll see caffeine being added to ever-more improbable drinks and snacks, putting children, unsuspecting pregnant women, and others at risk," CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said in a statement. "How soon before we have caffeinated burgers, burritos or breakfast cereals?"

A Kraft spokesman said: "We have carefully reviewed FDA requirements and believe our product is in compliance with current regulations for food ingredients. FDA is currently evaluating caffeine and has explained that they do not object to caffeine use in other beverages beyond colas. The caffeine level in our product is comparable to what is naturally found in coffee and tea."

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