Kraft plans to start putting its food on a diet
By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
The world of making and marketing food spun topsy-turvy Tuesday when Kraft Foods, the nation's largest foodmaker, unveiled global plans to improve product nutrition by reducing sugar, fat and calories in most of its products and shrinking single-serve portions. (Related story: Under fire, food giants switch to healthier fare)
The move by Kraft (KFT) is expected to force many of the biggest names in food and beverages to follow. It comes at a time when consumers are becoming more nutrition conscious and when attorneys are threatening lawsuits and lawmakers are proposing legislation. The nearly $1 trillion U.S. food industry has emerged as the fall guy for a coast-to-coast epidemic of obesity.
Kraft, maker of Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers, Post cereals and Oscar Mayer meats, vows to carry out its plan over the next year.
Every product will be reviewed to meet Kraft's stricter nutritional guidelines. Many foods will have fat reduced by one gram or two. Sugar will be cut in many. Calorie reduction could be 5% to 10%. Portion size or count will be slimmed on many single-serve products and vending machine packages.
"We're doing this because we believe the rise in obesity is a public health challenge of global proportions," says Betsy Holden, co-CEO of Kraft Foods. "It's an important issue, and we have an important role to play."
But Kraft's actions may not be so altruistic. Its parent company the former Philip Morris, now re-named Altria Group is paying billions of dollars as its part of the 1998 tobacco settlement. Executives are well aware that trial lawyers are focused on Big Food as the next Big Tobacco.
"There is no historical reason for trusting Philip Morris to act in the public interest," says Marion Nestle of New York University's nutrition department. But, "I'll be the first to cheer them on if they do what they say."
Wall Street analysts say foodmakers must shape up or risk consumer backlash.
Kraft is creating an advisory council whose recommendations the company hopes to begin to implement by early 2004. They will:
Set guidelines for all Kraft products for the permitted content of calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sugars and sodium.
Develop new marketing practices, especially for kids. Kraft will stop in-school marketing. The council will determine products appropriate for school vending machines. It will create marketing guidelines that encourage healthy eating and active lifestyles.
Set a global labeling policy, even for markets where nutrition data isn't required.
"We're talking millions of lives that could be improved," says Derek Yach, coordinator of diet and exercise for the World Health Organization. The key, he says, is for Kraft to set up independent monitoring and verification.
Rivals are watching. But Nestlé, No. 1 in the world, has "no intention to go that route," says spokesman Francois-Xavier Perroud. "(It) might not make sense in all markets."
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