The Federal Trade Commission was wearing the white hat and riding the palamino, as far as the produce industry was concerned, when it told food conglomerate Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif., to cool it on making unsubstantiated health claims for its Boost Kids Essentials.

FTC lays down law on claims of nutrients

Chuck Robinson
Media Watch

Nestle TV and magazine ads and its website claimed its probiotic-fortified product would strengthen children’s immune systems, protect them from getting colds and keep them from missing school.

The FTC ruling on Nestle’s advertising came down in mid-July, shortly after the FTC busted Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. for claiming Rice Krispies helped bolster children’s immunity. That infraction was a follow-up of a 2009 FTC settlement over Kellogg’s claims that Frosted Mini-Wheats were “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%.”

Kellogg’s has apparently identified a gold mine for promoting its products because in July it introduced Kellogg’s FiberPlus Antioxidants Cereals, which are loaded with fiber, antioxidants and sugar.

No explicit health claims are made, but they are betting the words “FiberPlus” and “antioxidants” have enough health-halo glow to convince consumers the product is healthful.

Kellogg’s and Nestle cheapen the value of mentioning specific nutrients and vitamins in food, and for that they should be slapped down.

However, their FTC tribulations contain a warning for produce marketers about relying too much on similar strategies.

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The Economist in recent months has rarely run articles on produce-related issues, but the July 17 issue had an eight-paragraph piece on online grocers.

The article mentions Webvan, which quit business in 2001.

No mention of Amazon.com, which began online grocery deliveries in the Seattle area in August 2007 (though Amazon’s book sales get mentioned to compare with the problems of delivering a perishable product), or Skokie, Ill.-based Peapod Inc.; or New York’s FreshDirect and Mywebgrocer.com.

However, the London-based publication mentioned Hatfield, England-based Ocado (it has no physical shops) and Tesco, London (where order fillers can get in the way of traditional shoppers).

A big problem, the article suggested, is the lack of checkout lane temptations and other impulse buys. Another is that consumers want their groceries delivered at the beginning or end of the week, which causes a crush of orders.

E-mail crobinson@thepacker.com

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