Kellogg Paid Its ‘Independent’ Breakfast Council, Fed Them Pro-Cereal Talking Points

Image courtesy of Kellogg's

Americans just aren’t as interested in cereal as they used to be, so the companies that sell cereal are desperate to reverse that trend. Kellogg tried to increase its products’ health cred by creating a “breakfast panel” of “independent” dietary experts who were paid by the company and provided with talking points. The meaning of the word “independent” was rather fuzzy.

Across the food industry, experts paid to promote products as healthful don’t always disclose their relationship when talking up products on social media or during news appearances. What do those relationships entail, especially when the food companies call their consultants “independent,” as Kellogg did here?

The Associated Press obtained the contract that experts working for Kellogg as part of the “Breakfast Council” signed. They received an average of $13,000 each year, and one job requirement was “nutrition influencer outreach” on social media or to their colleagues. Oh, and they couldn’t do media work on behalf of any foods that are “competitive or negative to cereal.”

The Breakfast Council’s job was to teach a cereal-flavored continuing education class for dieticians, and to publish an academic paper about breakfast in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While the corporate funding was disclosed in the paper, Kellogg then cited it as a source when submitting comments on the government’s nutrition guidelines.

The requirements for social media influencer disclosures are evolving, and one former member of the Breakfast Council now says that she would have marked all tweets that were based on information provided by Kellogg as “sponsored.” At the time, that apparently didn’t occur to anyone.