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Nestle and General Mills to cut sugar and salt in children's breakfast cereals

ORBE, Switzerland--Nestle SA and General Mills Inc. will cut sugar and salt in the children's breakfast cereals they jointly market outside North America, the latest attempt by major food companies to respond to health concerns.

The two have been in a joint venture since 1990 to sell Nestle-brand cereals such as Cheerios in more than 140 countries outside the United States and Canada, markets which account for about half total global cereal sales of some US$25 billion.

They say they will reformulate 20 cereal brands popular with children and teenagers by 2015, boosting wholegrains and calcium and aiming for average reductions of 24 percent in sugar and 12 percent in sodium.

The reformulation will affect about 5.3 billion portions of cereals sold each year.

The 50/50 joint venture called Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW) is the second-biggest breakfast cereal producer after Kellogg Co. but is Europe's leading manufacturer of children's cereal. It had sales of 1.9 billion Swiss francs (US$2 billion) in 2011.

CPW Chief Executive Jeffrey Harmening said the plan builds on efforts started in 2003 to improve the nutritional profile of cereals. The group has cut almost 900 tonnes of salt and more than 9,000 tons of sugar from its recipes since then.

“A certain number of moms don't want their kids to have as much sugar as they do right now, so that is a barrier for some to purchasing breakfast cereal,” Harmening told Reuters at CPW's new global innovation centre in the Swiss town of Orbe.

The move comes as food and beverage companies seek to preempt tougher regulation due to the global obesity epidemic by offering healthier products or smaller portions.

The World Health Organisation estimated there were over 42 million overweight children under the age of 5 in 2010. It says obesity in Europe is already responsible for up to 8 percent of health costs and up to 13 percent of deaths.

High in Sugar

A study this year by British consumer magazine Which? found that 32 of the 50 top-selling cereals were high in sugar, with almost all those aimed at children — including Cheerios — recording levels of sugar similar to chocolate biscuits.

However it did say that most cereals had significantly lower levels of salt than a few years ago and judged Nestle's Shredded Wheat the healthiest, with low levels of sugar, fat and salt.

Malcolm Clark, coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign of Britain's Sustain charity, which seeks to protect children from junk food marketing, was skeptical about the Nestle move.

“Reformulating is great, but the question is how they then talk about their products. They can't talk about them being healthy. They will be mildly less unhealthy than they were before,” he said.

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In this March 18, 2011 photo, boxes of cereal sit on the shelf at Santa Venetia Market in San Rafael, California. Nestle SA and General Mills Inc. will cut sugar and salt in the children's breakfast cereals they jointly market outside North America, the latest attempt by major food companies to respond to health concerns.

(AFP)

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