PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay Cracker Jack’d by PR Flap Over Caffeine


When Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote the words and music to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” way back in 1908, neither one of them had ever been to a professional baseball game. The pair didn’t mind making some bucks, though, and were surely pleased when the tune caught on. 

If they were writing the song today, of course, they’d probably charge Cracker Jacks a product-placement fee for giving it a mention. Frankly, Cracker Jack brand owner Frito-Lay should probably give Major League Baseball a bit of earnings since a good chunk of the product’s sales likely come from soft-hearted baseball fans who want their kids to experience the game like it was in the old days.

In those olden days, of course, Major League games were played during the day so getting sugared up with Cracker Jacks wouldn’t keep anybody up into the night. That didn’t happen till 1935 when the Cincinnati Reds shone a light down on a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Now, of course, most professional games are played at night in order to rake in more dollars. Some of those games, especially in the postseason, can go well into the night.

And if you’re having trouble staying awake for the ninth inning, Cracker Jack is about to introduce a product that can help you out, with an extra twist that certainly snapped a few folks to pay attention. A hue and cry has been raised over Cracker Jack’D, which includes a “Cocoa Java” flavor that’s just rolling out to stores. Cue a PR kerfuffle — not what Frito-Lay execs had in mind as the iconic brand celebrates its centenary.[more]

The focus is on the java in the cocoa java flavor, although the list of ingredients will not list caffeine but coffee, Yahoo! News notes, and the snacks will contain about 70 mg of the stuff, “equivalent to a 1-ounce serving of espresso or two 12-ounce servings of cola.” The Center for Science in the Public Interest raised a collective eyebrow and shot off a letter (read it here) to the Food and Drug Administration to express their concern, but a Frito-Lay rep says not to worry and that the new snack will be marketed to adults.

The CSPI letter also fingers two other brands it says caffeinate their products: Kraft Foods’ MiO water flavoring drops and the Jelly Belly Candy Company’s Extreme Sports Beans for containing 50 mg of caffeine per 1-ounce package. The CSPI sees this “as the beginning of a craze in which many companies, large and small, disregard the FDA’s regulation and begin adding caffeine to all kinds of foods and beverages,” which could harm children:

A Frito-Lay spokesperson commented to Ad Age that “two flavors that will contain coffee, a natural source of caffeine, as an ingredient…We stand by the safety of all products in the Cracker Jack’d line, including those that contain coffee. It is worth pointing out the regulation referenced in CSPI’s letter to FDA speaks to caffeine–not coffee–and is not an exhaustive list of the safe uses of caffeine in foods and beverages.”

That isn’t enough to allay the Center’s concerns. “It is wholly inappropriate to add caffeine to a kid-friendly product, regardless of whether the caffeine comes from coffee or another source,” said Jeff Cronin, the Center’s director of communications to Yahoo! News. “Even if the company intends to market the product to adults, the Cracker Jack brand is one that children have a long attraction to.”

As for Jelly Belly’s caffeinated Extreme Sports Beans, which come in two fruit flavors, cherry and watermelon. The latter flavor, for example, is described as:

50mg of caffeine are infused in each 100-calorie pack, along with vitamins B, C and electrolytes. And all this potent workout fuel is backed up by refreshing watermelon flavor made with natural flavors and real watermelon juice. Extreme Sport Beans energizing jelly beans are formulated to help you blast through any athletic endeavor. Used by the Jelly Belly Pro Cycling and Triathlon Team as well as other athletes, Sport Beans are clinically proven to maximize sports performance.

The Jelly Belly brand states on a consumer FAQ that:

Each bag of Extreme Sport Beans includes 50 mg of caffeine, about the same amount as in a half cup of brewed coffee, for those times when you need an extra edge in a workout or competition. There are numerous clinical studies that have documented how caffeine improves sports performance including: Improved endurance – Reduced perceived exertion (RPE) – Enhanced agility – Faster sprint speeds – Increased power output.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified caffeine as Generally Recognized as Safe for adults and children in 1958. The American Medical Association (AMA) has a similar position on caffeine’s safety, stating that “moderate tea or coffee drinkers probably need have no concern for their health relative to their caffeine consumption provided other lifestyle habits (diet, alcohol consumption, etc.) are moderate as well.” The AMA defines moderate caffeine consumption as about 300 mg which is equal to about 3 to 4 cups of brewed coffee. However, Jelly Belly does not recommend Extreme Sport Beans for children, teens, or pregnant or nursing women. For them, we recommend our regular Sport Beans.

Kraft’s general MiO FAQ page states that it is “a completely caffeine-free product” and that “the ingredients in MiO are recognized as safe for the general population. Children included.” However, what the CSPI is targeting is the brand’s recently introduced “MiO Energy” line with two flavors of “water-enhancing” drops, Black Cherry and Green Thunder, containing 60 mg of caffeine per bottle, about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee per half-teaspoon squirt. A MiO Energy FAQ section does spell out that it shouldn’t be shared with children — or added to vodka or Coke, for that matter.

The main MiO Energy section of the MiO website comes off as tongue in cheek, describing it as “made of rollercoasters and trampolines. It gives you the same beverage freedom as classic MiO, but with a perfect boost from B vitamins and caffeine. It’s fuel with flavor. A personal, portable alternative to straight-off-the-shelf energy drinks.” The description for the Black Cherry variety: “It’s so wild it could get you arrested on a plane, but it’s worth the lawyer fees. Squirt this stealthy liquid into a glass, mug or hollowed-out gourd of your choice, and help your water live a little.”

The MiO Facebook FAQ tab also advises against giving it to children (and against mixing it with alcohol). Yet that doesn’t stop some observers arguing for a ban MiO Energy along with other energy drinks (which rose to a record-breaking $8.9 billion in US sales last year, per Beverage Digest) in schools. An Oct. 23rd New York Times article on the FDA being pressured to regulated high-caffeine drinks notes the MiO Energy packaging: “The bottle’s label notes on the side that it is ‘not for children,’ a category that the beverage industry usually defines as those under 12.”

That article, which also cited Rockstar Energy and Monster Energy drinks as coming under fire, commented that “F.D.A. officials say they lack sufficient evidence to act on caffeine levels in energy drinks, but continue to study the issue. Also, producers can market an energy drink as either a beverage or a dietary supplement, differing regulatory categories with different labeling and ingredient rules.”

Your thoughts? Post a comment below.