General Mills has settled a lawsuit brought by a consumer watchdog group over the labeling claims used on its Cheerios Protein cereal.
As a part of the settlement reached last week, the Golden Valley-based food company will make changes to its front-of-package statements, but is not admitting guilt to the lawsuit's accusations.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) alleged in 2015 the food maker's marketing was misleading customers to believe Cheerios Protein was the same product as Cheerios original, but with more protein.
CSPI, an advocacy group, said consumers would buy the product thinking it was a more healthful option without realizing Cheerios Protein had a higher sugar content than plain Cheerios.
To settle the matter, General Mills agreed to stop adding the 4 grams of protein from milk to the 7 grams of protein from cereal to its box-front per-serving claim. It will also add the phrase "sweetened whole grain and oat cereal" on the box's front panel to signal it is made with added sugar — 17 grams per serving.
"The improvements that General Mills has agreed to make on Cheerios Protein will make it less likely for consumers to be tricked into thinking that Cheerios Protein is simply a protein-enriched version of original Cheerios, when it is not," Maia Kats, CSPI litigation director, said in a statement.
The original lawsuit focused on the amount of protein in the product, claiming it was not significantly more than regular Cheerios. General Mills countered by saying Cheerios Protein contains 18 percent more protein by weight than original Cheerios, which meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's threshold for being "a good source of high quality protein" while plain Cheerios does not.
On Friday, General Mills said it is confident in the accuracy of its Cheerios Protein label and that it made the decision to settle the case to "avoid further expense and distraction to our business."