Out, out excessive sugar content! Avaunt in the name of Altria unbridled sodium chloride, fats – and all the other dollar-generating pharmacopoeia beloved of the convenience food industry.

Kraft Foods, America’s largest food manufacturer, will today (Tuesday) announce a groundbreaking plan to upgrade product nutrition across the globe – setting a trend that others, even the mightier Nestlé, may have little choice but to follow.

A major marketing upheaval is expected as Kraft hits the ground running with reduced sugar, fat and calorie levels in all its leading brand ranges – among them Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers, Post cereals and Oscar Mayer meats. Portion size will be reduced on many single-serve products and vending machine packages.

Kraft will set up an advisory council whose recommendations it aims to implement by early 2004. The council will:

• Set guidelines for all Kraft products for the permitted content of calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sugars and sodium.

• Develop new marketing practices, especially for kids. Kraft will cease in-school marketing and the council will determine products appropriate for school vending machines. It will create marketing guidelines that encourage healthy eating and active lifestyles.

• Set a global labeling policy, even in markets where nutrition data isn’t required.

Proclaims Kraft Foods’ joint-ceo Betsy Holden to the sound of a heavenly choir: “We’re doing this because we believe the rise in obesity is a public health challenge of global proportions. It’s an important issue, and we have an important role to play.”

But cynics believe Kraft’s main consideration is less the nation’s health – more the nation’s edacious lawyers. Parent group Altria (formerly Philip Morris) is currently bleeding billions of dollars in compensation under the terms of the 1998 tobacco agreement – and its corporate radar has detected the next twin targets for legal lipsmackin’ could be the national obesity problem and the $1 trillion US food industry.

Observes Marion Nestle of New York University’s nutrition department: “There is no historical reason for trusting Philip Morris to act in the public interest. But I’ll be the first to cheer them on if they do what they say.”

World number one food-fabricator Nestlé of Switzerland is watching the Kraft initiative like a hawk but claims it has “no intention to go down that route”. Such a move, says spokesman Francois-Xavier Perroud “might not make sense in all markets”.

Data sourced from: USA Today; additional content by WARC staff