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General Mills Lowers Sugar Content In Kids’ Cereals

December 10, 2010

American Fortune500 corporation General Mills is lowering the sugar content in its children’s breakfast cereals to no more than 10 grams per serving from 11 grams a year ago, as the company continues to address childhood obesity.

General Mills said it has now achieved average sugar reductions of 14 percent on cereals advertised to children since 2007, with some cereals reduced as much as 28 percent in the same time period.

The cutback in sugar by the maker of cereals such as Lucky Charms and Trix is a move closer to its year-old goal to reduce to single-digit levels the number of grams of sugar per serving in all of its children’s cereals.

General Mills said it must reduce sugar in small, incremental steps, otherwise consumers notice the difference and stop buying those products.

“Consumers have a very keen idea of what these cereals ought to taste like and if you change the taste dramatically or suddenly, they’ll walk away from the brand,” Jeff Harmening, president of General Mills’ Big G cereal division, told Reuters in an interview.

“We will not make changes if it reduces the taste of the product,” he said.

As of December 31, 2010, all shipments of General Mills’ eleven cereals advertised to children will have 10 grams of sugar or less, the company said.

Sugar not only contributes to obesity, but is also a key culprit in diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association. The AHA recommends that women eat no more than 25 grams of added processed sugar a day, and men no more than 37.5 grams.

Ready-to-eat cereals, including sugared cereals, account for a reasonably small amount of a child’s sugar intake — less than 5 percent on average. “Still, we know that some consumers would prefer to see cereals that are even lower in sugar,” Harmening explained. “Consumers know that cereals are already low in calories, but we think consumers will be pleased that they now have lower sugar too.”

Food and beverage companies are facing increasing pressure to make their products healthier as recently passed US health reform legislation shifts the country’s focus to ways to prevent disease, instead of simply treating it. Many companies have responded by cutting levels of sugar, sodium and fat in their products.

Harmening declined to say where in the single-digit range the children’s cereals would eventually end up, though he said he would feel victorious once they all reach 9 grams or lower.

And General Mills has not only been reducing the sugar in cereals, but it has also been increasing key nutrients. For example, the company paved the way in fortifying its entire line of children’s cereals with calcium and vitamin D in 2008. Now all General Mills Big G children cereals deliver at least 10 percent of the Daily Value for calcium and vitamin D.

General Mills is also the leader in whole grain cereals, with every Big G cereal providing at least 8 grams of whole grain per serving. And several include more than 16 grams per serving.

Today, General Mills’ cereals provide America with more whole grain at breakfast than any other breakfast food from any other manufacturer. Big G cereals are America’s number one source of whole grain at breakfast. General Mills’ whole grain conversion across its entire Big G cereal line is one of the most notable health and nutrition commitments in the food industry.

“We feel General Mills can lead the way by innovating to make even better tasting cereals with lower sugar levels ““ and we are going to continue until we reach our single-digit goal,” Harmening said.

“Ready-to-eat cereal really is one of the best breakfast choices you could make,” said Susan Crockett, Ph. D., vice president, Health and Nutrition, and director of the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition at General Mills.

“Studies demonstrate that frequent cereal eaters tend to have healthier body weights, including both kids and adults who eat sweetened cereals. And when you improve a product as important as ready-to-eat cereal, by adding whole grain or reducing sugar, you can meaningfully impact health and nutrition. The science is consistent,” she said.

Although, Harmening said taste will never be compromised.

“To be successful with consumers, big changes like these must be made in a series of small steps that consumers accept and embrace, because taste rules. You can be certain that we are going to maintain the great taste that Big G cereal consumers love,” he added. 

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