The Oreo Cookie: Not So Black and White

Is Kraft doing enough? That's the underlying question in The Chicago Tribune's series this week on the Oreo cookie. It's the best-selling cookie on the planet, but, like the Big Mac, it contributes to this country's current obesity epidemic. The Oreo's recipe -- almost 60% sugar and fat -- is high in calories, with its creamy filling loaded with trans fat (which can elevate cholesterol and endanger your ticker). Kraft's conundrum: How can it act responsibly and market junk food at the same time?

So far the company has introduced Oreo Thin Crisps, a lower-calorie cookie without the cream; shrunk the portion size; come out with smaller packages; launched a Sensible Snacking site; and announced that it will no longer advertise its least healthy products to kids under 12 (the first food giant to do so). It's also in the process of retooling the Oreo recipe to eliminate trans fat.

Those are reasonable steps, but are they enough? Should Kraft go further and ditch the Oreo game on its site and Oreo stacking contests at Wal-Mart and curtail all kid-oriented marketing? Should it fund research into the addictive nature of sweets, which in some studies have triggered a similar neurological response as narcotics?

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21 Comments

  • Gabi Velebir

    There's no question that obesity is a result of a person's daily lifestyle. Clearly, this is a personal responsibility problem: these people need to discontinue their current bad habits and become more aware of the damage their doing to themselves.

  • Pink Crab

    I'm responsible for what I teach my children to eat, and I LOVE Oreos. But when I learned to like them, my Mother didn't have the information I have now. I can't stop the children from liking them, but I can teach them to see how some foods are occasional treats, and some are "OK all the time foods." I read labels, and I can honestly say that manufacturers are savvy - they know what will put me off, so they don't give that information. Make them responsible for the information and me responsible for the choice to buy it.

  • Eddie Gil

    In 1912 there were no transfats...I suspect the cookie was a much tastier and healthier product. I recall Kraft altering the sacred cookies ingredients sometime in the 1980s to save a buck.

  • Alice

    Regarding the following:
    "If we are speaking of responsibility here, why is the food manufacturer the one responsible for the effect of its product on the consumer when the consumer is aware of the proper serving size and ingredients? How can Kraft possibly be held responsible for a midnight snacker's binging behavior?"
    Knowledge of trans fats' ill effects on people's health is recently won. That said, however delicious or nostalgic it may be, why would a company want to market a product that they know makes people sick? That is precisely the reason they must change the recipe. What did they use in Oreos before partially hydrogenated oil was available to them? Butter? Lard? Producers change ingredients in the name of cost savings and marketing ventures all the time. I don't see why everyone is so up in arms about a cookie's ingredients changing to benefit our health.
    May as well start selling delicious antifreeze pops to kids. It will be their own fault if they poison themsleves, right? Responsibility swings both ways.

  • Tomas

    I guess they should include a warning label on the cotton candy that is sold in fairs about its sugar content, which I believe is close to 100%.

  • rodney

    Preach it, brother! It's great to see FC stepping up with some thoughts on an often overlooked but vitally important issue.

    Oreos were a big part of my childhood as well. Marketing to lower income families worked in my case. Childhood cancer hit at age 11. I don't claim any connection, but I now see things in a different light.

    Folks, how is it that we turn such a blind eye to the fact that trans fats are banned from entire countries, yet we hold companies like Kraft blameless for using them as primary ingredients.

    Profits over people -- it's the America way! Kraft has to maintain its margins, trans fats + lobbying is cheaper than the alternative. Ignorance is bliss.

    Must we all wait for something to go terribly wrong before making a change? I hope not. The human and financial cost of the attitude that this is an individual choice is enormous.

  • Jason Zeaman

    Interesting that the majority of comments are that it is the individual's responsibility, even children's.

    I'm curious how people feel about the cigarette advertsing aimed at children or even at adults.

    Should cigarettes be available to anyone regardless of age? Are the same concepts of personal responsibility applicable there as well or is food different?

  • Kristi

    I love oreo's! I could sit there and eat the whole bag. That is why I only buy them once a year or less. People can make their own food choices, and they can choose to live with the results.

  • Laura

    Okay if we are going to protect everybody from themselves we need to get rid of more than just Oreo cookies!

    Kid's have temptations to resist all their lives - why not learn by saying no first to a cookie? It will be good practice for the worse stuff that's offered later.

    You cannot protect people from themselves. If we try we all suffer.

  • A Lash

    I must say, I've been aggravated by this issue of the food industry's responsibility for the obesity epidemic since reading about someone suing McDonald's for causing their health problems. It's a ridiculous accusation.

    Oreos are a delicious treat, as are Big Macs, and ice cream. Oreos are not intended for mass consumption by the bag in a single sitting. Kraft is not contributing to the country's obesity problem. Poor eating habits are responsible. Kraft doesn't hold a gun to anyone's head and say "EAT MY DELICIOUS COOKIES UNTIL YOUR HEART EXPLODES!" Nor can they stop any person from ingesting more than a serving at a time.

    In a society constantly on the go, where people value convenience and instant gratification more than quality, is it any wonder that eating habits are so bad overall? No food producer is responisble for this in my opinion. Oreos have been around a lot longer than this "obesity epidemic".

    Each person is responsible for their own welfare (and that of their children). If a person finds their clothing a bit too snug, or their cholesterol too high, or their girth a bit out of hand, they are responsible for doing what they need to to maintain their own health by adjusting their own habits, having a health problem diagnosed and treated, or laying down the twinkies and walking around the block.

    If we are speaking of responsibility here, why is the food manufacturer the one responsible for the effect of its product on the consumer when the consumer is aware of the proper serving size and ingredients? How can Kraft possibly be held responsible for a midnight snacker's binging behavior?

    Further, why should a person who enjoys one or two oreos as an afternoon snack be denied the real thing and be forced to eat some low-fat, low pleasure version of their favorite treat because some people can't control their own intake?

    I find the entire subject disgusting. People must take responsibility for their own lives at some point. Smokers, over-eaters, alcoholics, drug users. They know it's bad for them, and they must make the choice between health and pleasure.

    By the way, I am a smoker, and I am aware of the consequences of smoking. I enjoy smoking. I will quit when I'm ready. If I get cancer, it's my own fault for starting in the first place. No one's fault but my own.

    LONG LIVE THE ORIGINAL OREO RECIPE, Big Macs with extra sauce, mint chocolate chip ice cream, fudge pops, fried chicken, cheesecake, and kool aide with double the sugar. And for heaven's sake, everybody, get up off the couch, turn off the TV, and take a bike ride every once in a while.

  • florinda rocha

    i am a diabetic overwieght since childhood, i cannot blame anyone but myself.my parents should
    have educated me about overeating and the consequences,but i still cannot blame them.
    the entire world needs to take personal responsibilty,and teach children two things how to take care of thier health and their money.these skills would save a lot heartache and heart attacks.

  • Sam Ebel

    A post said responsible choices are for grown ups-I agree 100%. Why don't the parents in this country make the choice to limit the amount of unhealthy foods their children eat?
    I have seen obese kids whose parents go to the store and continue to buy these spoiled kids all the junk food they want. Stop being their friend and be parents, use some tough love, the kids will thank them for it later-been there done that-

  • meryl steinberg

    Come on....we're talking about using all the sophisticated marketing acumen available on the planet to push very unhealthy foods to children. Don't talk to me about responsible choices.
    That is for grown-ups. The ultimate cost of these unhealthy "choices" can be staggering.

  • meryl steinberg

    Come on....we're talking about using all the sophisticated marketing acumen available on the planet to PUSH very unhealthy foods to children. Don't talk to me about responsible choices.
    That is for grown-ups. The ultimate cost of these unhealthy "choices" can be staggering.

  • Warren Nelson

    I had a dear friend (and boss) who was massively obese. (He died about a year ago at 65 and weighed in excess of 350lbs.)

    All the time I worked for him he asked me to help him lose weight. I tried. And when he was with me, he ate small portions in at reasonable times.

    When he was on his own, he ate and ate and ate.

    Finally, one day when he was pleading for help, it finally dawned on my young mind that food was not his problem. I didn't get it completely then but years later, I discovered that he had deep set emotional problems that he assuaged with food.

    Blaming the food companies for obesity is like blaming the electric company when someone sticks their finger in socket and gets electroted (not a prefect analogy, but you get my point)!

    Food is a choice. If you can't make healthy choices (and believe me, I'm no saint in this regard!) don't blame the food company! Join a group and get help!

    Free or nearly free groups exist in nearly every community and their goal is to make eating a nutrional exercise, not an emotional release.

  • Rita McGrath

    This is such a great example of features in a product that go from tolerable to very negative and the dilemmas it creates for companies who have to react (talked about this phenomenon in the book, MarketBusters). The basic dilemma is that for most of Kraft's customer segments, the old Oreo is just fine thanks very much (as a younger person I was addicted to the double stuff ones...yikes!). But, a few members of segments that really care will create so much of a stir that the company has to respond. If I were advising Kraft, I'd see if they couldn't both improve the healthiness of the product while at the same time capitalizing on some other features of this most-loved brand (such as the 'treat' aspect mentioned by a previous commenter). People never cease to amaze me when it comes to what they will and won't see as acceptable. The stir is actually creating some neat new opportunities for differentiation for Kraft, if they can only see it that way.

  • Brian

    When is the blame game going to stop? People are responsible for what they put in their mouth. Take responsibility for your actions America and grow up! I am an obese adult fighting to loose weight every day and I do NOT blame anyone but myself for being fat. Actions have consequences.