The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) alleged Cheerios Protein has 17 times as much sugar as the original Cheerios, thus marketing the product as a high-protein alternative was misleading.
Four-gram difference in protein
CSPI noted Cheerios Protein claims it has 11g of protein on its front pack, of which four grams come from milk, leaving seven grams from the cereal. The original Cheerios has three grams of protein – that does not include protein from the cereal itself.
“That four-gram difference represents a small amount of protein – just 5% of the average American’s intake,” CSPI said in a statement.
Maia Kats, litigation director at CSPI, added: “Consumers who buy Cheerios Protein probably think they’re doing themselves a favor, and this more expensive product is essentially a protein-fortified version of original Cheerios.”
However, “the main thing that distinguishes Cheerios Protein from the original version is the huge amount of sugar and extra calorie… [so it] is actually more conducive to diabetes, weight gain, heart disease and tooth decay,” she said.
As part of the agreement, General Mills said it will stop adding the four grams of protein from milk to the seven grams of protein from the cereal when it states the protein content on the front panel of Cheerios Protein boxes.
The company will also adopt the phrase “Sweetened Whole Grain and Oat Cereal” and make it appear in a font at least 50% as large as the font used for the word “protein.”
Commenting on the forthcoming label change, Kats said: “The improvements that General Mills has agreed to make on Cheerios Protein will make it less likely for consumers to be tricked into thinking that the product is simply a protein-enriched version of original Cheerios.
“This settlement is a significant victory for consumers and sends a strong message to the food industry that similarly misleading products should be relabeled,” she added.
However, General Mills said it is confident in the accuracy of its original label.
“We made the decision to settle the case to avoid further expense and distraction to our business,” it said.
Matthew Simon, litigation associate at CSPI, noted the food industry has been increasingly rolling out protein versions of their original products in respond to the consumer demand.
However, “the products must have substantially more protein and not have substantially more of the nutrients health-conscious consumers are seeking to avoid, including added sugars, sodium and saturated fat,” he said.