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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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Discussion Starter · #2 ·

Kraft to Revamp Products: Cites Obesity

Tue Jul 1,12:30 PM ET


By Deborah Cohen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Kraft Foods Inc., the biggest U.S. maker of processed foods, on Tuesday said it would cap portion sizes, eliminate marketing in schools and reformulate some products as the food industry faces increasing legal blame for obesity and unhealthy eating trends.

The maker of Oreo cookies and Velveeta cheese spreads said this year it will develop a range of standards to improve the overall nutritional content of its products and the way it sells them. It will begin making changes to the way it manufactures and markets foods beginning next year.

The cost of the measures, which are sweeping, could not be estimated, according to a spokesman for the company, based in the Chicago suburb of Northfield, Illinois.

Critics are quick to point out that Kraft may be on the defensive at a time of heightened criticism over the role big food companies play in contributing to growing health problems in the United States. No. 1 fast-food chain McDonald's Corp. has already been the target of a highly publicized lawsuit linking its burgers to obesity in children.

"This is sort of a preemptive move to stave off the lawyers and the critics," said Henry Anhalt, an endocrinologist and director of the "Kids Weight Down" program at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.

"What I think is going on is that the soothsayers are saying that coming down the pike are going to be large lawsuits, class action suits looking at cardiovascular disease, premature death, diabetes, and they're going to turn to the food industry and lay it on their feet," he said.

Still, he applauded Kraft for making changes that he believes will make a difference. Kraft could set standards that other major food companies could follow.

Obesity among adults in the United States has doubled since 1980, and tripled among adolescents, according to the U.S. surgeon general.

Kraft acknowledged that the moves may in part help indemnify the company against potential lawsuits.

"We're making these commitments first and foremost because we think it is the right thing to do for the people who use our products and for our business, but if it also discourages a plaintiff's attorney or unfair legislation, that's fine with us." said Michael Mudd, a Kraft spokesman.


Kraft said its efforts would be global, focusing on product nutrition, marketing practices, information for consumers and public advocacy. It is forming an advisory council to help develop standards for the company's approach to health issues.

Marketing fatty and sugar-laden foods to children has been a hot-button in the news. Last week, New York City's school system decided to remove candy, soda and sweet snacks from school vending machines.

Last month, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) said that agency plans to push for expanded nutritional labeling on food products.

Kraft said the changes it will make will include advertising and marketing to children to encourage appropriate eating behaviors and active lifestyles.

The company, which used to promote its products on Channel One, a news channel played in secondary schools, will now cease all in-school marketing.

Other big food industry players are also taking defensive measures. McDonald's in March announced worldwide initiatives to help promote healthy lifestyles and provide consumers with expanded product information. It has also assembled an advisory council.

"This is an ongoing battle," said Keith Patriquin, a buy-side analyst with Loomis Sayles, which holds shares of Kraft and other big food names. "Trial lawyers ... are looking for the next big thing."

Earlier this year, a lawsuit was filed in California seeking to ban Kraft's Oreo cookies. The suit, which drew criticism in legal circles for potentially abusing the U.S. court system, was withdrawn less than two weeks later.

Shares of Kraft, which is majority owned by tobacco giant Altria Group Inc., were off 25 cents at $34.30 in mid-morning New York Stock Exchange (news - web sites) trading. (With reporting by Brad Dorfman in Chicago)

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Originally posted by spa_girl

So disillusioned with food companies lately.
And rightfully so. That said, I'd rather kids eat junk food with 5 - 10% fewer calories and no trans-fats, if nothing else.

Also, lunches with 100% fruit juice instead of sugar-water are an improvement, as are some of the other improvements I read in those articles and others in the papers today.

I'm willing to see healthy eating happen gradually, because it will never happen overnight.
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