General Mills slaps down Kraft

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General Mills is proud of its cereals. Is Kraft?

The Minneapolis marketer is implying its rival is anything but, in an offensive that rips wide open the industry rift about how best to counter blame heaped on Big Food in the childhood-obesity debate.

Infuriated over the seeming implication of guilt signaled by Kraft Foods' decision earlier this year to pull advertising for all but its better-for-you products to kids (AA, Jan. 17) General Mills is coming out swinging, unabashedly touting the benefits of breakfast-any breakfast. It has little choice: As much as 30% of the Minneapolis marketer's profits come from cereal, many of them of them kids' brands.

Armed with research that shows even the sweetest of its offerings are packed with nutrients and far better than no breakfast at all, General Mills is confidently continuing its marketing efforts to kids and even expanding them with a multimillion-dollar "Choose Breakfast" TV campaign-it's largest ever kids' effort-refusing to kowtow to politicians and the press in the way it believes Kraft has.


"Kraft has virtually said it is embarrassed about its products, but we're proud of ours," offered one General Mills executive.

The move underscores the split growing in the food industry. While Grocery Manufacturers of America spokesman Richard Martin said the industry is "unified in that the current self-regulatory system for advertising to kids, including the Children's Advertising Review Unit, is effective and that additional intervention or legislation is unwarranted," he conceded that "because of proprietary branded-marketing issues, it's difficult to come to a consensus as an industry about how to grapple with our No. 1 public-policy priority." That fact is especially bothersome as groups like GMA and CARU struggle to develop a strategy to present to a Federal Trade Commission panel next month.

Just what the right approach is for a food company caught in the crossfire of government and consumer advocacy groups declaring childhood obesity a national problem is difficult to discern. So far, Kraft looks to be winning the war of public opinion.

General Mills plans to run its unbranded spots only alongside ads for kid favorites like Trix or Lucky Charms, and for that, it's already feeling the heat. Though a spokeswoman was quick to counter news reports that the new initiative "touts sugary cereals" with the fact that the new ads never actually mention cereal, the media takeaway has been that the motives of the No. 2 cereal marketer are less than altruistic.

Jeff Cronin, director-communications for Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the campaign is "a PR stunt designed to sell more General Mills cereals." The move stands in stark contrast to Kraft, he said, which "put out a policy about responsible marketing to kids that had some real changes."

At least in the cereal arena, Kraft's gesture may not be all that magnanimous. Its Post lines are a distant third in the category. A Kraft spokeswoman said the company's decision to advertise only its products deemed "sensible solutions" to kids is not a sign it's not proud of its offerings. Instead, it's "provided incentive to develop more better-for-you and health and wellness products."

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