Cereal Makers Target Kids, Evade Junk Food Advertising Ban

Crafty cereal makers may weasel out of their promise to stop advertising junk food to audiences under 12 by fudging serving size information. Eleven cereal makers last week set the threshold for products advertised to children at 12 grams of sugar per serving. According to the New York Times’ original coverage, many cereal makers are already “trying to reformulate the foods to meet nutritional guidelines.” Why reformulate when you can change the labels?

Much of General Mills’ serving size information is arbitrary. Take their line of Total: The serving size for Total and Total Honey Nut Clusters is 3/4 cup, which fluctuates between 30 grams for the former, and 48 grams for the latter. Compare that to Total Cranberry Crunch and Total Raisin Bran, which have larger serving sizes of 1 cup, or 53 grams. Total’s mass remains roughly the same mass regardless of whether it has raisins, cranberries, or honey nut clusters.

The standard USDA serving size is 30 grams. For Cocoa Puffs, General Mills uses a serving size of 27 grams. Under the USDA’s serving size, Cocoa Puffs have 14 grams of sugar, which would make them subject to the advertising ban; but by using a serving size of 27 grams, the sugar content drops to 12 grams per serving, meaning that General Mills can peddle their sugar puffs to kids without restriction.

Now compare that to General Mills’ treatment of Trix, which has a serving size of 32 grams. According to the both the USDA and General Mills, Trix have 13 grams of sugar, making them subject to the advertising ban. When the serving sizes are equal, Cocoa Puffs have more sugar than Trix; yet Cocoa Puffs will be advertised to children, while Trix, the cereal with less sugar, will be kept from audiences under 12.

Despite the labels, these trix are not at all sweet.

Trix indeed [U.S. Food Policy]
Cereals [General Mills]
Cocoa Puffs [NutritionData]
Trix [NutritionData]
PREVIOUSLY: Should We Unilaterally Ban Junk Food Advertising Targeting Children


Edit Your Comment

  1. evil_doer420 says:

    Any parent buying cocoa puffs for their child, as a steady diet, or thinking it is healthy, is a retard and should have their children taken away.

  2. joe6486 says:

    What do we expect? The government has no right to curtail the legitimate advertising of breakfast cereal. Dodging these unfair restrictions is a completely understandable (but unfortunate) response.

  3. MickeyMoo says:

    Does the government have the right to curtail the advertising and sales of alcohol and tobacco products to minors? (Joe Camel – Wine Cooler like fortified content beverages aimed at young female drinkers) Most people seem to think so.

    I find your argument fallacious. The manufacturers either need to stand up in the light of day and challenge the law under a free market principle, or abide by it. PERIOD. Doing an end run around the rules after the fact is a sleazy marketing/legal department weasel tactic and they should be called on the carpet for it.

  4. gershinator says:

    The government gave these companies a huge-ass loophole and the companies are taking advantage of it.

    Why couldn’t the government just say that the cereal products with more than 40% sugar (12 g sugar / 30 g serving size) be subject to these regulations?

    I can’t blame companies for this one.

  5. Sidecutter says:

    I’m not surprised. Companies have been having field days with serving sizes forever. There’s absolutely NO consistency whatsoever across companies, or even inside one. Take a look at, say, Swiss Rolls from Little Debbie. The 2-Packs you buy for a quarter in a convenience store are one serving. But the smaller wrapped pair that comes in the box packs is two servings. Less product, more servings? Makes no sense.

    If cereal companies really wanted to do something that was good for people, they wouldn’t be pulling crap like simultaneously producing Trix and Trix with “1/3 Less Sugar!”. They would just cut the sugar in Trix and be done with it.

    Not like anyone would notice anyway. I’m fairly sure the threshold for the human ability to taste sugar is something like a maximum of 8 pounds of suagr per spoonful of cereal. Dropping it from 12 to 8 wouldn’t even be noticable!

  6. MickeyMoo says:

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was “industry input” in drafting the legislation – specifically with the loophole in mind.

  7. whydidnt says:

    Bahh, are we all really such sheep that we need the government to tell us a cereal called Cocoa Puffs has a lot of sugar in it? And have so many parents forgotten that they are the parents, that they just can’t say NO to their child that has just seen the ad for said Cocoa Puffs. Give me a break, just more nanny state goodness from your federal government.

    If parents would just be the parent and quit trying to be Bobby and Susie’s best friend this would not be an issue.

  8. heypal says:

    @mickeymoo: hear, hear.

  9. synergy says:

    I noticed this the other day when I was looking at the nutritional info comparing Cheerios with the off-brand bag. (btw, the Cheerios had less sugar)

  10. obbie says:

    Silly Rabbit!!! TRIX are for Adolescents.

  11. Bay State Darren says:

    I know a lot of people think parental/individual responsibility is all that’s really needed and the food industry should not be heavily regulated. That’s the system that got America’s waistlines to where they are today. Clearly it’s not working. So some multi-billion dollar companies lose money, boo-hoo. They can afford it. Industries evolve when socitey changes and the companies who don’t adapt to society’s needs don’t get to survive. I don’t see the housepaint industry trying to find loopholes to lead laws. If companies really believe “the customer comes first” then they should be willing to make sacrifices and even make slightly less profits to that effect.

  12. royal72 says:

    hey america, how about you get off you fat, whining ass (collectively) and simply monitor what you and your children eat?

    “well it’s wrong that they specifically target kids with adver…”

    then turn the fucking tv off (ie: tv off = advertising off).

    “but then i won’t have anything to do.”

    no shit and maybe, just maybe you’ll have to think for yourselves. the horror!

  13. Thrust says:

    Know what. Canada gets it worse than the US now, because OUR nice tasty cereal will be the same as your new flavorless grain-crap, and WE don’t have that retarded nanny-state law you do.

    The government should really just keep the FUCK out of people’s eating habits. Give a kid original frosted flakes and he’s happy, give him corn flakes and he’s still happy. Know why? He’ll just pour white sugar all over the corn flakes until it is sweeter than the frosted flakes were.

    And the problem is not the sugar content anyways. The problem is mommy letting him eat a popcorn-tub size of everything, and mixing high-sugar with high-sugar. If he has sugary cereal, give him toast, not Poptarts. If he’s eating poptarts, that lil porker gets special-K or shreddies, and hide the sugar bowl.

  14. Justus says:

    I was actually eating cereal when I happened across this story, interestingly enough. It made me curious, so I looked at my box of Raisin Nut Bran and eyed the sugar content–13g / serving.

    This surprised me, since I didn’t think that my cereal was as bad for you (by this measure, anyways) as, say, Trix or Cocoa Puffs. However, with all of the serving size talk going on, I took a closer look. The recommended serving size for Raisin Nut Bran (and this is a General Mills cereal) is 49g! Obviously, I feel much better about it now that I realize it’s 13g sugar / 49g serving vs 13g sugar / 32g cereal.

    This is something I feel should be standardized because I know that I (as your average, lazy consumer) certainly don’t look at very often when gauging how healthy my food is.

  15. andrewsmash says:

    The reason that we have USDA and an FDA is as much about standardization as it is quality control. If all they did was set standard serving and dosing sizes, it would make it easier for consumers to accurately compare brands. The only ones to suffer from this would be those with inferior products, and the government has no mandate to make their lives easier.

  16. magic8ball says:

    @ ROYAL72: Hey, I’m all for turning off the TV, but it’s not as if that’s the only source of advertising. It would be great if shielding my kids from ads were that simple.

  17. The Walking Eye says:

    Much of General Mills’ serving size information is arbitrary. Take their line of Total: The serving size for Total and Total Honey Nut Clusters is 3/4 cup, which fluctuates between 30 grams for the former, and 48 grams for the latter. Compare that to Total Cranberry Crunch and Total Raisin Bran, which have larger serving sizes of 1 cup, or 53 grams. Total’s mass remains roughly the same mass regardless of whether it has raisins, cranberries, or honey nut clusters.

    The mass of Total stays the same regardless of raisins, etc.? The volume of raisins, cranberries, honey nuts, etc. that displaces the same volume of flakes weighs more, so what’s your issue here? I can’t quite figure out what you mean with that last sentence. If you meant that the amount of flakes stays the same per volume, a much clearer sentence is needed.

    What I’ve noticed on the serving sizes is that they’re all roughly the same calories, and they manipulate the weight of the serving to arrive at that across the board. Complaining about what the companies put on these labels is pointless until the government tells them that they must use the standard serving size for whatever type of food it is, which I think would make it a little easier to compare the foods.

  18. jaredharley says:

    I’m all for food products having both a “per-serving” and a “whole container” listing on the nutritional facts.

    Perfect example is the 20 oz bottle of soda: It’s got xxx calories, xx g sugar, etc, per serving. Now, more than likely, I’m going to drink the whole bottle in one go – so let’s add it up real quick – oh wait, the bottle’s got 2.5 servings, which means I’ve got to do multiplication in my head, which I hate.

  19. JPropaganda says:

    You can see that Trix are reformulating their recipe to be able to fit within under 12: Trix are now advertising themselves as puffs, which are less dense than their previous fruit-shaped counterparts. This means they can sell what is essentially the same cereal except say there is SLIGHTLY LESS sugar than before (im gonna guess 1g less) despite the fact the kids will use the same amount of cereal or more, since puffs dissolve quickly in milk and kids will repour.

  20. dbeahn says:

    I’m amazed that no one has cited the first amendment in this thread. People just love to drag out the “free speech” drum and bang away when it’s something that isn’t covered by free speech, and this certainly qualifies…

  21. Rusted says:

    I never eat cereal, can’t stand it. Breakfast just gotta be fried. Hopefully with grits.

  22. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    @MickeyMoo: I second the hear hear. Great, dead-on comment.

  23. Thrust says:

    This per-serving bullshit is quite retarded. According to the packaging, a serving of Doritos is like 7 chips, pop is 100ml, my freakin Maynards Winegums Sours are 9 bloody pieces. Who eats these portions?

    Well I bought this can of pop here, and it’s 355ml, but Im only going to drink 100ml because that’s a serving. The other 255ml I guess goes in the garbage since it will be flat before I’m allowed another serving.

  24. lihtox says:

    @Thrust: Well I bought this can of pop here, and it’s 355ml, but Im only going to drink 100ml because that’s a serving.

    OK, what if the pop listed a serving size of 355ml, and you wanted to compare its nutritional information with this bottle of soda over here, where the serving size listed is 600 ml: now you have to do division and ratios in your head. Standardized serving sizes help you make those comparisons.

    What’s best are those labels out there which give you nutrition info for the standard serving size, AND the info for the entire container as well: the first lets you compare, and the latter lets you know what you’re consuming right now.

  25. ThyGuy says:

    I’m all for forcing these companies to all follow a measurement guide. But the fact that the government didn’t spot this incredibly obvious loophole is what blows me away.

    Daaaaar, lets make a law that bans advertising to children in cereal if the sugar per serving is over a certain level, but don’t worry about that law to enforce companies to use certain measurements as a serving. We can trust them to do the right thing…. DAAAAAAAAARDARADARDARDAR!!!!

  26. @whydidnt: “Bahh, are we all really such sheep that we need the government to tell us a cereal called Cocoa Puffs has a lot of sugar in it?”

    No. I need the government or the corporation from which I am buying food to tell me exactly what is in my food. I don’t eat Cocoa Puffs, but I certainly want to know what’s in the Cheerios I have now and then. Particularly if I’m planning my diet around an allergy, for weight loss, or for the healthy development of a fetus I’m carrying.

    I know, I know, I’m funny that way, wanting adequate prenatal nutrition.

  27. usfoodpolicy says:

    Wait a sec. There’s no issue of First Amendment rights here. No issue of dumb government with foolish regulations. No issue of neglectful parents who failed to realize that Cocoa Puffs are a sweet cereal.

    The problem with advertising sugary cereal on television shows for young children is that it undermines the healthier messages that most parents are trying to communicate. The cereal advertising standards are voluntary guidelines written by the companies themselves, to determine which foods get advertised on children’s television. After issuing the guidelines, the companies issued a press release to enjoy some public acclaim, even though their own loophole lets them keep selling Cocoa Puffs on children’s television.

  28. Jaysyn was banned for: https://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:


    I love that stuff too. I just figured that most of the sugar came from the rasins & not HFCS.

  29. etu001 says:

    I am pretty sure there are Coke 20oz bottles that have both the 8oz serving and entire bottle nutrition facts.

  30. full.tang.halo says:

    Riddle me this, Special K Eggo Waffles, 1 waffle has 60 calories and 5 from fat, 1 serving size which is 3 waffles, has 190 calories and 10 from fat, someone please tell me where the other 10 calories came from and the 5 from fat went to….

  31. frogpelt says:

    Last time I checked, kids don’t drive themselves to the grocery store, kids don’t buy their own food, and they shouldn’t be deciding what to eat.

    That means it is a parent’s job to make sure their child is eating healthy food.

    Why is everyone trying to pass the buck?

  32. jeff303 says:

    Shouldn’t they just use “percent sugar by mass” as their yardstick rather than allowing these serving-size tricks?

  33. Thrust says:

    @frogpelt: Trust me, Kids DO decide what they eat, and what mommy buys. Like cats, if you put something in front of them, they would starve themselves before eating something they don’t like. Also, here is an example of how kids force mom to pick up Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs instead of Special K…

    Kid: I want this cereal.
    Mom: No.

    Mom: Fine you little shithead, here’s your honeycomb!

  34. vladthepaler says:

    How about if instead of a law about what products can be advertised to children, we have a law saying that parents may not permit their 6-year-olds to do the family grocery shopping?

  35. savvy9999 says:

    I care very little about sugar content in the foods I give my kids, as long as it’s real sugar in the product.

    As soon as I see HFCS (or sucralose, or aspartame, or olean, or any other LD50-food) anywhere in the ingredient list, bye bye. That includes about 99% of General Mills products. Oh well!

    New flash: Real sugar and real fats and real proteins and real whole-grain carbs are not bad for you. Strike all of the fake garbage out of the diet of your family and what’s left, you can have just about as much of it as you want. Fresh local meats, local milk, local veggies and fruits… serving size doesn’t matter one bit to us, because we’re fairly sure that what and how much we’re eating is not poisonous by any whacked-out, accountant-derived, corporate measure.

  36. Bay State Darren says:

    The fact is, whatever’s already in place now has led to an obese nation. It’s a disservice. We can regulate (or try to) harmful narcotics, so there’s at least some precedent on saying to the public, “That shit’s gonna kill ya!” and limiting choice. (I’m not saying we need anywhere near that level of preventative measures, just that people are too stupid to know what substances to not put into their bodies.)
    @dbeahn: Tobacco ads on television and radio. ‘Nuff said.

  37. beyond says:

    What ever happened to eggs and toast for breakfast? I mean, even a kid can use a toaster and those microwavable egg containers. Toast with jam and eggs with a glass of milk. Get out the frying pan and make some bacon, only takes a few minutes (I’m sure there’s some cheap plastic contraption that lets you microwave bacon, too). Slice some fruit on Sunday and fridge it; it’ll last the whole week.

    Cereal is gross. Try making some real food. Problem solved.

  38. banned says:

    “I’m sure there’s some cheap plastic contraption that lets you microwave bacon, too:

    Ya its called a plate.

  39. banned says:

    Only because they have bad parents. When I wouldn’t eat my veggies, I had to sit there, all night long, until they were gone. If I even thought of a temper tantrum in public, there woulda’ been hell to pay. These parents do not deserve children!

  40. frogpelt says:


    Sounds like your kids are running the show.

    Which means you have bigger problems than what they’re eating for breakfast.

  41. Thrust says:

    @savvy9999: You hit on a good point. REAL food trumps processed crap anytime. I won’t touch Asparteme (sp?) or other synth-sugar crap. Gives me the Screamin Ahbahdah’s.

    @frogpelt: Don’t have any yowling bratlings yet… My observations come from the hordes of crying flesh-blobs that are in the aisle while I try to find my Apple Jacks.

  42. Morgan says:

    Anyone here want to go into business with me? I’ve decided to market my new cereal, Sugar-O’s, to children. At a serving size of 12g, it’s 12g of sugar per serving qualifies me to advertise on children’s television. I’m sure all the brats Thrust sees in the store will be all over it.

  43. Bay State Darren says:

    Speaking of lack of self-control foodwise: Today I cheated on my diet and did Chinese for lunch. The fortune cookie’s response: “Your problem just got bigger. Think, what have you done?”

  44. banned says:

    I’ll help under these conditions. We sell Sugar O’s, market them as being full of sugar, but not have any sugar at all. It saves money and just telling kids its loaded with it will make them want it.

  45. Morgan says:

    @rocnrule: But won’t the customers be upset when they realize they bought an empty box after we sell them the Sugar O’s with the sugar removed? :)

  46. @beyond: “I’m sure there’s some cheap plastic contraption that lets you microwave bacon, too”

    If you get a plate with ridges in it, all the fat runs off the bacon, even! Well, off the bottom of it, anyway.

  47. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Today I cheated on my diet and did Chinese for lunch. The fortune cookie’s response: “Your problem just got bigger. Think, what have you done?

    Realized that if my only problem was my weight, the rest of my life looks pretty damn appealing.

  48. Echodork says:

    @Thrust: “Don’t have any yowling bratlings yet…My observations come from the hordes of crying flesh-blobs that are in the aisle while I try to find my Apple Jacks.”

    If you’re in the cereal aisle looking for Apple Jacks, it’s pretty clear you don’t read the side of the box anyway, so why should you care what’s written there? It doesn’t matter if the serving size is 27g or 32g, if you’re eating Apple Jacks as an adult, you’re probably eating four or five servings in one sitting anyway.

    While we’re on the subject, if you eat Apple Jacks now, it’s pretty safe to say you ate Apple Jacks when you were five, which means your parents let you run the show just as much as any parent in the store today.

    So, how did you turn out? Better or worse than those flesh-blobs in the cereal aisle?

  49. Thrust says:

    @Morgan: Dude. No. No, no no… Need to leave 1g per serving as chalk for the marshmallows. 13g portion, 12g sugar, 1g chalk. Call it Lucky 13’s, and make the marshmallows little colored bad-luck charms.

  50. Thrust says:

    @speedwell: Man who fart in church sit in own pew. Your lucky number are 1, 3, 13, 31, 6, 1/2, 3.14

  51. voodoodle says:

    I agree with Royal72 – the problem here isn’t so much the sugar content as it is the fact that they’re finding these loopholes in order to advertise to children and create the screaming fleshbots that Thrust is talking about.

    Get the kids out from in front of the TV. It a soul-sucking box from hell. You want your kids to have souls, right?

  52. Morgan says:

    @Thrust: Ahh, you’re thinking of my other brand of cereal, Marshmall-O’s. Sugar-O’s are my 12g of sugar per 12g serving cereal.
    I kinda like the Lucky 13’s idea, though.