Cereal manufacturers fail to sweet-talk TV watchdog

UK broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has thrown out a claim by cereal manufacturers Nestle and Kellogg's that they they were unfairly treated by a Channel 4 TV programme.

The edition of Channel 4's 'Dispatches' series, broadcast in October last year, revealed that 30g servings of many children's breakfast cereals contain more sugar than a doughnut and more salt than a bag of potato crisps.

Indeed, many of the cereals analysed, including Kellogg's Frosties, Coco Pops and Honey Loops, and Nestle's Honey Cheerios, Cookie Crisp and Nesquik, were more than one-third sugar – before adding milk – with Frosties the sweetest at 11.1g of sugar per 30g of cereal, the programme's researchers said.

The programme also said that, having been banned from advertising on children's TV, cereal makers had simply switched to brand advertising at other times when they knew children would be watching, and on the Web, a claim which the two manufacturers did not deny.

Kellogg's and Nestle separately complained to Ofcom, alleging that they had been treated unfairly, that claims made by the programme concentrated on salt and sugar, and ignored breakfast cereal's low fat levels, and that they were not invited to participate in the programme beyond answering emailed queries.

Channel 4 replied that the programme was based on publicly-available material and did not focus on any particular product or manufacturer. Instead it examined consumer perceptions of breakfast cereals, and encouraged viewers to look beyond the marketing and packaging.

The broadcaster added that the manufacturers' complaint of unfairness was really a complaint that the programme had not included their 'spin' on the topic. For instance, it said that Kellogg's assertion that the sugar content of its cereals is no higher than that of a glass of fruit juice or a banana failed to acknowledge that the former is refined sugar, which affects health differently from fruit sugar.

In a 57-page judgement (pdf), Ofcom said that the programme had not been unfair to the two manufacturers and that the complaints were not upheld. The watchdog also threw out a third claim of unfair treatment, from Professor Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition and dietetics who had appeared in the programme.

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