Nasty surprises: That’s what’s in the new Rice Krispies box
Reception to the new breakfast cereal hasn't been great, and not without reason
There’s a “large group” of South Africans I would really, really like to talk to.
They are the people – a mix of those who ate the old Rice Krispies, and those who only sampled the “new, improved vanilla flavour” ones – who “responded favourably” to the new Rice Krispies.
According to Kellogg South Africa, all members of that large test group gave the new Rice Krispies a thumbs-up before the product was put onto the market a few months ago as a replacement for the original.
But go onto the company’s Facebook page and you’ll find a stream of hate from original Rice Krispies fans – they’re mainly protesting the taste, the sweetness – the new version has twice the sugar of the old – and the vanilla flavour.
In short, it’s a totally different product, and that “large” group of people who unanimously approved the “new improved” Rice Krispies appear to be completely silent now, as are those consumers whose tastes they were apparently representing.
That large group has a lot to answer for, if you ask me.
There’s an issue with this change that’s more serious than the sugar spike and the dramatically different taste.
The product doesn’t quite live up to its name anymore, having gone from rice only to “multigrain” – rice, corn and wheat.
Despite the fact that wheat is a common allergen, the new wheat content is not prominently highlighted on the new pack. The word “multigrain” is there, but even that doesn’t stand out.
“My sons and I have wheat allergies and have been thus been eating Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes for years,” Gareth Hutson told TimesLIVE.
“During the week we were feeling ill and assumed we had picked up stomach bugs. That is until my sister asked what the writing on the bottom of the box was about.
“Surely Kellogg’s need to have far better disclosure on the box, ideally completely rebranding a totally different cereal, considering that wheat is a common allergen?”
On Kellogg South Africa’s Facebook page, Gina Meduric shared the same sentiments: “The new box is misleading in not clearly indicating the change of the product, and now as someone who is allergic to wheat, I cannot eat your new recipe as it is not a rice cereal anymore.”
Dr Harris Steinman, a Cape Town-based allergen specialist, said the fact that ordinary consumers may not appreciate that the formulation had changed, in spite of the “'multigrain” indication, “makes this product high risk for wheat-allergic consumers”.
“They should have made a more clear warning for susceptible consumers,” he said.
While the original Rice Krispies also contained gluten, Steinman said: “Wheat-allergic individuals need to avoid wheat, not gluten.”
“Imagine if the ingredient added was peanut.”
Consumers would be within their rights to argue that the change in formulation was not indicated strongly enough, he said.
Steinman also pointed out the Rice Krispies pack contained a number of nutrition claims that are not permitted by the health department’s food labelling regulations.
“Nourish your great”;
“Supports growth and development”; and
“No artificial colourants and flavourings” – the word “artificial” is not allowed as a qualifier of colourants or flavourings.
Responding, Kellogg SA’s research, nutrition and technology director Xolile Mbatha said the company was confident that “the packaging adequately distinguishes the product from the previous formulation by the use of the clear bright green banner displayed on the front of all packs stating ‘New and Improved Vanilla Flavour’.
“Furthermore, the banner also states that the formulation contains ‘Multigrain’, which indicates that the grains used are no longer limited to rice.
“Wheat is clearly and adequately reflected in the ingredients list on the pack as well as in the allergen statement below the ingredients list.”
As for Steinman’s comments on the labelling claims, Mbatha said: “We are confident that they adhere to the existing food labelling regulations.”
So what does the health department have to say about the new Rice Krispies pack?
Do officials think the pack makes it clear enough to consumers with wheat allergies that it now contains Multigrain Krispies?
I have attempted to get a response via the health department’s communications division, but so far no acknowledgment.
I am very reliably informed, though, that the department is of the view that the name Rice Krispies is now misleading, given the new formulation, and that the general look of the new pack doesn’t do enough to alert consumers to the introduction of wheat.
I put it to Kellogg’s that the company has three options: recall the product, put sticky “alert” labels on the new box, or do nothing.
“Which will Kellogg’s SA choose?” I asked.
I didn’t get a direct answer, but the company’s response suggests the latter.