Fruit flies in childhood-obesity fight

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The latest pawn in the raging debate among government, industry and consumer groups over childhood obesity is the $540 million kids' fruit-snack category.

Marketed for more than a decade under the name "fruit snacks," products like those sold by category leader General Mills under the names Fruit Roll-ups and Fruit Gushers have always contained just trace amounts of fruit. But now they will undergo a marketing makeover that tags the popular lunch-box fare "fruit-flavored snacks." So instead of Fruit by the Foot, it's more accurate to call it Fruit Flavor by the Foot.

The change was prompted by the Children's Advertising Review Unit belief that the snack's designation as fruit-on packaging and in advertising-could confuse kids who may think tossing back a handful of Fruit Gushers is equivalent to eating, say, an apple. In doing so, the self-regulatory body is widening its focus from marketing messages to labeling.

CARU's director Elizabeth Lascoutx announced the shift and the agreement by General Mills and Kellogg Co. to adopt the label during a recent FTC workshop on marketing to kids. The wording change is also aimed at appeasing critics such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has singled out the fruit-snacks category and its marketing as a contributor to childhood obesity.


Ms. Lascoutx said the shift is not about "good food vs. bad food, it's about what do kids think they're getting?" After all, she said, "CARU is not the product-development review unit."

Bob McKinnon, founder and president of youth-oriented agency Yellowbrickroad Communications, suggested that if indeed CARU is not shifting its mandate, the fruit-snacks change seems strange. "If you start there, where do you stop?" he said.

Kellogg spokeswoman Celeste Clark said that in part due to "heightened sensitivity" surrounding responsible food marketing, Kellogg had begun to change packaging and advertising to eliminate saying "made with real fruit juice" in advance of CARU's concern over the category, in an effort to "minimize confusion." While General Mills commands the lion's share of the category, Kellogg has during the past two years built a 24% share through a combination of new products, the takeover from General Mills of the Disney license for fruit snacks and the acquisition earlier this year of Kraft Foods' Nabisco fruit snacks facility for Nickelodeon-licensed products.

Noting that it had "not announced anything" regarding the category-name shift, a spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based General Mills declined to comment.

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