Larry Crowe  /  AP
Cereal manufacturers have introduced reduced sugar versions of some of their more popular breakfast offerings, as shown in Concord, N.H., on March 6. While the reduced sugar cereals do have less sugar, they are virtually nutritionally identical to their full-sugar counterparts.
updated 3/28/2005 8:20:04 PM ET 2005-03-29T01:20:04

A lawsuit by a San Diego mother claims that lower-sugar versions of Cocoa Puffs and Froot Loops may seem healthier, but they’re really a bunch of Trix.

Jennifer Hardee has sued three big cereal companies, accusing them of misleading advertising through prominent “low sugar” packaging. She was surprised to learn from an Associated Press story last week that the new cereals have no significant nutritional advantage to regular versions of the popular kids’ breakfast cereals.

Hardee, a Navy wife and homemaker with two young daughters who eat cereal, is suing Kraft Foods Co., General Mills Cereals, and Kellogg USA Inc., saying they intentionally misrepresent their products.

General Mills “never made specific health claims” for its reduced sugar cereals, said spokeswoman Marybeth Thorsgaard.

“Consumers wanted less sugar, so we gave them less sugar,” she said. “Our packaging is clearly labeled with nutritional information that complies” with government regulations.

Post spokeswoman Abbe Serphos said the lower-sugar version of Fruity Pebbles was “part of the evolution of the product.”

“There are some consumers who prefer an option with reduced sugar. And we’re looking to see if there are ways to add additional nutrients like whole grain and fiber in the future,” she said. “It’s a process that takes time.”

Kellogg declined to comment.

Misleading advertising?
Howard Rubinstein of Miami, one of the lawyers representing Hardee, said the companies have intentionally misled consumers by displaying low-sugar labels prominently on the packages. Consumers don’t always understand the details in nutritional labels, he said.

“A lot of people, quite frankly, don’t have the educational ability to make those decisions. They rely on the one-line ad,” he said Monday. “It is that kind of an ad that adds a lot of ambiguity, and it shouldn’t.”

Hardee was on vacation with her family Monday and was not available for comment, her lawyers said.

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Hardee’s lawsuit, filed last week in San Diego County Superior Court, seeks to force the companies to surrender profits from low-sugar cereals and to stop them from marketing the products as nutritionally superior.

The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of all California consumers who bought the new cereals believing they were healthier, said attorney Harold M. Hewell of San Diego.

No nutritional benefits
Hewell said Hardee heard a broadcast report of the AP story last week that found there was no real advantage from the lower-sugar cereals. The AP had asked nutrition experts at five universities to review the new reduced-sugar cereals to see how they stacked up with the regular versions.

The nutrition scientists found both the old and new cereals had the same amount of calories, carbohydrates, fat, fiber and other nutrients. The AP story reported that manufacturers replaced the sugar with other refined carbohydrates to preserve the crunch.

The cereals examined were Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops; General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Trix; and Post’s Fruity Pebbles. Only one, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, had fewer calories than the full-sugar version — 120 calories compared to 130 per three-fourths cup serving.

Hewell said Hardee “was extremely upset” to find that most of the reduced-sugar cereals had the same calories as the regular versions.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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