Wholly Grain

The whole grain train certainly has begun to gather steam. A couple of months ago, General Mills (Minneapolis) reformulated several of its cereals to include whole grains, and new food guidelines released by the USDA call for three of the day's grain servings to come from whole grains. To help consumers meet that standard, a frozen meal manufacturer has joined the fray.

Lean Cuisine from Stouffer Foods (Solon, Ohio) has introduced eight new Spa Cuisine entrées, all of them made with 100% whole grains. Each contains fewer than 300 calories, 8g of fat or less, and 100% whole-grain rice or pasta.

In addition to three “rejuvenated” varieties (grilled chicken in a peanut sauce, lemon chicken and Mediterranean chicken), the whole-grain line includes five new entrées: chicken pecan, lemongrass chicken, pork with cherry sauce, rosemary chicken and salmon with basil.

Nutritious Vending

For the past couple of years, vending machines have been under fire from parents groups, who allege that their children have been subject to unhealthful snacks and beverages. Now, the industry is addressing the issue.

The National Automatic Merchandising Association (Chicago) has launched a campaign touting a new color-coded safety guide to identify the nutritional qualities of the foods on offer. A colored label will appear next to chips, trail mix, candy bars, cookies and crackers in vending machines. Each color represents the product's nutritional worth. Items with a green sticker should be chosen frequently; yellow-tagged items should be consumed occasionally, while consumers should opt for the red-labeled items rarely. Posters on the vending machine will explain the color-coding message.

The program will be set up with school systems this year. It scores the snacks on a point basis, giving a point to foods rich in calcium, protein, fiber, iron and vitamins A and E, but subtracting points for items with high levels of sugar, fat and calories.

Popular Kids, Positive Message

Star Farm Productions LLC (Chicago) owns the rights to the fictional characters Edgar & Ellen and is willing to leverage the popularity of the pair in nutritious foods and beverages for kids.

The company is targeting manufacturers of healthful foods with the rights to the characters. According to Star Farm, numerous popular icons can be found on high-calorie, sugar-laden and low-nutrition foods. The addition of Edgar & Ellen, it is believed, will communicate their popularity to children, and a healthful signal to the parents.

Edgar & Ellen fall into the “creepy and unusual” category, but the company believes that is particularly attractive to tweens. The pair are featured in a book series and soon will be found in games and puzzles from Mattel (El Segundo, Calif.), a series of animated shorts on Comcast's (Philadelphia) broadband service and a live-action feature film set for 2006 release.

Kraft-y Marketing

Kraft Foods (Northfield, Ill.) will launch “Sensible Solution” labeling in the U.S. Similar to the “Smart Spot” tags on certain PepsiCo (Purchase, N.Y.) products launched last year; qualifying Kraft products will feature a prominent on-pack “flag” beginning in April. To qualify, each product must meet specific “better-for-you” nutrition criteria that Kraft has set for each category. That is, the products must provide beneficial nutrients, deliver a functional benefit or meet specifications for the claims of “reduced,” “low” or “free” in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar or sodium.

In addition, the company will utilize that “Sensible Solution” criteria to judge which products it advertises in television, radio and print media viewed primarily by children between six and 11 years old. As a result, popular Kraft products such as Kool-Aid beverages, Oreo cookies, several Post cereals and many Lunchable varieties will not be marketed to children in this age bracket. The company, as a policy, does not market in media with a principal audience under the age of six.