[11/24/16] On its website, Kellogg touted a distinguished-sounding “Breakfast Council” of “independent experts” who helped guide its nutritional efforts.
Nowhere did it say this: The maker of Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes paid the experts and fed them talking points, according to a copy of a contract and emails obtained by The Associated Press.
The company paid the experts an average of $13,000 a year, prohibited them from offering media services for products “competitive or negative to cereal” and required them to engage in “nutrition influencer outreach” on social media or with colleagues, and report back on their efforts.
“I’m still feeling great from my bowl of cereal & milk this morning! Mini-Wheats are my fave,” a council member posted during a Twitter chat with Kellogg about the benefits of cereal. Kellogg introduced the dietitian as a “Breakfast Council Member.”
Without noting her relationship with Kellogg, another council member and dietitian chimed in to say Mini-Wheats were her favourite, too. She included a photo of Frosted Mini-Wheats.
For Kellogg, the breakfast council — in existence between 2011 and this year — deftly blurred the lines between cereal promotion and impartial nutrition guidance. The company used the council to teach a continuing education class for dietitians, publish an academic paper on breakfast and try to influence the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines.
The Kellogg’s Breakfast Council included a professor of nutrition, a pediatrician and dietitians. Kellogg said the council’s activities were clearly sponsored.
Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert at the University of Ottawa who writes about industry influence in nutrition, said he did not believe it was clear to the public that the council members were compensated, especially since Kellogg described them as “independent.”
“It’s not an automatic leap. I don’t think people think about these conflicts that deeply,” he said.
Dayle Hayes, a dietitian who participated in the Twitter chat in 2014, said in an email that she prides herself on her ethics and transparency, and that her disclosure practices have changed with evolving standards. Based on current standards, she said she would include the word “ad” in tweets referencing Kellogg products. She said she did not share any information without appropriate disclosures.
Sylvia Klinger, the dietitian who shared the photo of Mini-Wheats, did not respond to requests for comment.
Kellogg Co. said it used the council for academic insight and guidance. It said the experts contributed to most the materials they shared, and that they disclosed their affiliation in public engagements.
Still, the company said it could see how its description of the experts as “independent” could create confusion. It later told the AP it had been reviewing its nutrition work, and decided not to continue the council. The breakfast council page is no longer online.
Kellogg said on its website that the breakfast council helped guide the company. But it wasn’t always clear who was providing the guidance.