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PepsiCo Telling Consumers Cheetos are Healthy

PepsiCo labels some of its snacks 'smart'
By Julie Schmit, USA TODAY
9/2/2004

Finally, Cheetos are a smart choice.
The baked kind, that is. Or so says PepsiCo (PEP), which sells them.

PepsiCo, saying it wants to give consumers a "little shortcut to a
healthier life," has deemed more than 100 of its food and beverage
products worthy of green "Smart Spot" stickers that read "smart choices
made easy."

Products making the grade include some that wouldn't necessarily be
considered healthy, such as baked Cheetos and baked Lays potato crisps.
The thinking: Baked is better than fried. "It's a smart choice in its
given category," says PepsiCo spokesman Mark Dollins. The stickers,
appearing on the first products Wednesday, will be fully rolled out by
year's end.

Some nutrition experts aren't impressed. The stickers may encourage
people to eat foods they "shouldn't be eating at all," says nutrition
professor Marion Nestle at New York University.

The campaign is one of several by food giants recently to promote health
and wellness amid rising public concern about obesity. Kraft Foods
recently introduced 100 Calorie Packs of popular Nabisco snacks
including Chips Ahoy! and Kraft Cheese Nips. The thinking: Help people
watch calories.

To make the Smart Spot grade, PepsiCo products must meet criteria chosen
by PepsiCo but based on "authoritative statements" from the Food and
Drug Administration and the National Academy of Sciences, the company
says.

What's a passing grade? That depends. A "snack" such as Cheetos cannot
get more than 35% of its calories from fat. NAS recommends 20% to 35% of
calories a day from fat. Baked Cheetos comes in at 34.6%, fried at
56.3%.

A "food" product cannot contain more than 30% of calories from fat.
Winners there include Life cereal, Quaker Instant Oatmeal and Aunt
Jemima Butter Lite Syrup.

The products cannot have any trans fats and must meet other nutrient
criteria unless they have specific health or wellness benefits. For
example, Gatorade's added sugar provides energy. Or, if they have at
least 25% fewer calories, fat, sugar or sodium than a "base" product.

While abstinence may be the healthiest option, people eat chips, says
Penny Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition at Penn State University. If
so, baked "is a healthier option."

Whether consumers, perhaps jaded by low-fat or low-carb claims that fell
short of their expectations, will see Smart Spot stickers as helpful or
just savvy marketing remains to be seen. If the latter, "Pepsi will pay
for that on the bottom line," says Lynn Dornblaser of market research
firm Mintel Group.

Smart Spot products accounted for 38% of PepsiCo's U.S. revenue last
year.