Video: Nutrition makeover

NBC News
updated 9/30/2004 12:37:59 PM ET 2004-09-30T16:37:59

Early morning in Otsego, Minn., is "crunch time" at the Simonsons' house. Cereal starts the day for 49 percent of all Americans, and 7-year-olds Kyle and Kali Simonson and their 6-year-old sister, Kara, are no exception.

Each year the average American downs 160 bowls of cereal. Thursday will see a tremor in this $9-billion-a-year industry as General Mills announces that all of its cereals — not just Wheaties and Cheerios, but Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms — will be made with whole grains.

"Emerging science continues to support the benefits of whole grains in people's diets whether it be heart health or maintaining a healthy body weight, and we are trying to make it easy," says John Haugen, vice president of marketing at General Mills.

A pioneer in whole grains, General Mills is also trying to stay ahead of the pack. This week, Kraft, the United States' largest food company, tied some of its products to the South Beach Diet. Those going against the grain, like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, have seen sales clobbered. Interstate Brands, the maker of Twinkies and Ding Dongs, has even filed for bankruptcy.

"When the ... consumer trend of being more health conscious came out, we lost sales to competitors who were already in that space," says Tony Alvaraez, CEO of Interstate Brands.

While General Mills says it's spending millions on the switch to whole grains, the amount of sugar in its cereals — 13 grams, for example, in just one cup of Trix — won't change. So some industry observers are accusing General Mills of gimmickry.

"Certainly it's a marketing ploy. This is about marketing. It's not really about nutrition," says Marion Nestle, a nutritionist at New York University.

Still, many mothers are applauding General Mills. "If it's to better the health of kids and whoever eats it, it's about time they started getting it done," says Kris Simonson. Die-hard consumers like her daughter Kali Simonson could care less. As long as the cereal tastes good, she doesn’t care what's in it.

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