This story has been corrected. See below.
You may remember Kellogg’s
“Breakfast Council” of independent nutrition experts working with the company to bring you healthy cereal options. The experts’ contracts expired in May 2016 and the group is no longer active. But as it turns out, these independent experts weren’t so independent after all.
Kellogg paid council experts an average of $13,000 per year, according to emails and contracts obtained by the Associated Press. The payment was for expert to engage in “nutrition influencer outreach” and refrain from offering their services to products that were “competitive or negative to cereal.”
Outreach usually meant one of two things: Experts would claim Kellogg was their favorite brand on social media, or they would tout the cereal during public appearances. Kellogg’s spokesperson Kris Charles told Fortune in a statement that the experts’ association with the company was disclosed at public appearances.
Additionally, the experts’ connection to the company may have affected some of their published work. For example, an independent expert was involved in publishing an academic paper in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that defined a “quality breakfast.” Kellogg had the opportunity to edit the paper and even asked that the author remove a suggestion about limiting added sugar (something the sugar industry has also been accused of doing with heart disease research).
The article was part of a supplement sponsored by Kellogg. The company told Fortune that its involvement would have been “abundantly clear” to anyone who read it. The piece was peer reviewed and, given its connection to Kellogg, an editor suggested removing some of the cereal-focused portions of the discussion. And according to an email obtained by the Associated Press, Kellogg was planning on using the paper in its comments to the federal government about dietary guidelines.
The company had a page on its website dedicated to its “independent experts,” but Charles told Fortune that the company now understands how the term “independent” could be confusing. In which case, the web page has been removed and Charles said the company would not use the word “independent” in the future. Charles added, however, that the “Kellogg’s Breakfast Council” name was meant to imply that it was a sponsored group.
“The council was a mix of experts we asked to provide objective academic insight, and external perspectives and opinions that informed business decisions,” Charles said. “As those who regularly participate in conversations about breakfast nutrition, they were also encouraged to share educational tools, information and materials. Most of the materials they shared are those to which they contributed.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Kellogg’s paid experts made television appearances on the company’s behalf. Additionally, it has been amended to clarify that the academic paper published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics was sponsored by Kellogg.