The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI), a nonprofit which describes itself as the “organized voice of the American public on nutrition, food safety, health and other issues,” according to its website, as well as private law firms and individuals, filed the lawsuit this week.
They allege that General Mills is marketing high-protein Cheerios as a healthy alternative to regular Cheerios when its main differentiation is having “17-times as much sugar”.
What the lawsuit says
According to the suit, Cheerios Protein’s box claims that it has 11g of protein per serving, 4g of which come from the milk. Original Cheerios has 3g of protein, something the plaintiff said is far too small an amount to tout so heavily.
Cheerios Protein also has a much bigger serving size, the lawsuit said, as Cheerios protein has a 55g serving size, while traditional Cheerios has a 27g serving size. This means 2oz of each brand has roughly the same amount of protein.
“The Cheerios Protein product name is false and misleading because Cheerios Protein has virtually no more protein than Cheerios, but it implies otherwise,” the lawsuit stated. “To increase sales, and guided by consumer trend data, General Mills leveraged the Cheerios reputation as a healthful breakfast cereal to market a cereal with materially higher protein levels.”
Another big difference between the two brands, according to the CSPI lawsuit, is that a 1 ¼ cup of Cheerios Protein has 17-times as much sugar as original Cheerios, which only has 1g of sugar per serving. The group also said each box of Cheerios Protein is $0.70 more per box, on average.
“A serving of Cheerios Protein, with its four teaspoons of sugar, has much more sugar than a typical cereal marketed to kids, such as Trix or Frosted Flakes,” CSPI president Michael F. Jacobson said in a blog post on the group’s website. “They really ought to call the product Cheerios Sugar.”
The lawsuit demands General Mills pay punitive damages, restitution to members of the class-action suit and destroy all “deceptive” advertising material for Cheerios Protein.
Response from General Mills
Mike Siemienas, manager of brand media relations at General Mills, told BakeryandSnacks that the company rejects the suit's comparison of Cheerios brand cereals. He qualified this is a “publicity-seeking lawsuit”.
“An equal amount of Cheerios Protein contains 18% more protein by weight than original Cheerios,” he said. “Original Cheerios does contain 3 grams of protein per serving – and it’s clearly a great cereal choice. But it doesn’t meet the FDA requirement as a good source of protein.”
“Cheerios Protein contains 7 grams of protein per serving – and it does qualify as a good source of high-quality protein under the FDA standard. Cheerios Protein is accurately labeled – and provides a good source of protein in every labeled serving.”