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Kellogg to change recipes, marketing

Kellogg Co. says it won't market to children any food that has more than 200 calories or 2 grams of saturated fat per serving. (Edouard HR Gluck/Bloomberg News)

NEW YORK -- Kellogg Co. plans to make popular brands like Pop Tarts, Froot Loops, and Apple Jacks healthier. But if the company's test kitchens can't match the taste, Kellogg said it will leave the recipes alone and simply stop marketing such products to children under 12.

The move, which was to be unveiled this morning, highlights the dual pressures on food companies. Everyone agrees food companies need to cut the sugar and fat to help battle childhood obesity, but food and beverage companies also know that tinkering with tried formulas can alienate customers.

An immediate impact of the move is assuaging a pair of advocacy groups -- the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood. The two last year threatened to sue Kellogg for marketing junk food to young children. Mollified by the Battle Creek, Mich.-based cereal company's latest commitments, these groups have agreed not to proceed with a suit against the company.

Kellogg is now setting itself new nutrition standards. The company said about 50 percent of the products it markets to children -- including some varieties of Pop Tarts and certain cereals -- don't meet these criteria.

"It means we have a lot of work to do," said chief executive David Mackay. "If we can't make those products taste just as good as they do today and make them as appealing, then we won't reformulate them and we won't advertise them."

The company already has a policy under which it does not advertise to children under the age of 6. As part of its new commitments, Kellogg won't market to children any food that has more than 200 calories, 2 grams of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of sugar, or any trans fat, per single serving. This means that Kellogg products that don't meet these criteria can't be advertised on television, radio, print, and third-party websites whose main audience is young children.

Products that don't meet the new standards will either be reformulated to meet those criteria or will no longer be marketed to children under the age of 12 by the end of 2008.

"This settlement will keep advertising for some of the least healthy foods off children's media," said Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Jacobson called the move a "real advance," but said Kellogg will still be able to market products that aren't terribly healthy simply because they come in just below the required limits.