Kraft Foods announces plan to put healthier snacks in kids' lunch boxes

Wednesday, July 2nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Kraft Foods, responsible for such goodies as Oreos, Mallomars and Chips Ahoy cookies, says it plans to fight obesity by changing its recipes, reducing portions and encouraging healthier lifestyles.

The nation's biggest food manufacturer also will eliminate promotions in schools, including posters and free samples. Its snacks will still be stocked in school vending machines.

``We're making these commitments first and foremost because we think it's the right thing to do,'' said Michael Mudd, a spokesman for the company, based in Northfield, Ill.

Kraft said Tuesday a 10-member advisory panel of experts on behavior, nutrition, health and communications, will review Kraft's products and recommend changes in its single-portion packages of cookies, crackers and other snacks.

The company said it hopes to develop its standards by the end of the year and put them into effect over two to three years.

Some observers see the effort as a first defense against lawsuits in an age when personal injury lawyers have turned their attention from cigarettes to Big Macs and even Kraft's own Oreo cookies. A California attorney sued to ban Oreos because of their artery-clogging trans fat, but later withdrew the lawsuit, satisfied with the publicity.

Mudd said the company is health-conscious.

``If it also discourages a plaintiff's attorney or unfair legislation, that's just fine with us,'' he added.

Dr. Henry Anhalt, a pediatric endocrinologist at New York's Maimonides Medical Center, said Kraft may be covering itself in court, but the result could be healthier children.

Anhalt said children typically treat a 20-ounce soda as one serving, while it actually contains 2 1/2 servings.

``What people eat is ultimately a matter of personal choice, but we can help make it an educated choice,'' said Roger Deromedi, co-chief executive at Kraft. ``And helping them get more active is every bit as important as helping them eat better.''

Kraft, whose other products include Oscar Mayer meats, Post cereals, Ritz crackers, and Maxwell House coffee, may also be able to tap into the growing market for healthier foods with reduced fat, salt or sugar. Those products account for $5 billion in sales a year in the $500 billion grocery business, said Grocery Manufacturers of America spokesman Gene Grabowski.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan said Kraft's initiative could start an important trend.

``That's the kind of thing that FDA ought to be encouraging,'' he said during a diet conference in Cambridge, Mass. ``It can have an important public health impact.