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PR Kerfuffle Over Caffeinated ‘Cracker Jacks’

Fans of Cracker Jacks will soon find something other than temporary tattoos, cheap trinkets and miniature games hidden in their sweet and salty treat bags: a jolt of caffeine.

Not thrilled with the idea of your little tikes loading up on “jacked up” cracker jacks and bouncing off the walls? Fear not! PepsiCo (parent company of Cracker Jack makers Frito-Lay) assures us that it will only market the soon-to-be-released Cracker Jack’d Power Bites to adults. Not buying it? Neither is the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which charges that the planned snack violates federal food regulations.

In a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, CSPI argued that “Caffeine is generally recognized as safe only in cola-type beverages and only at concentrations of 0.02% or less (about 72 mg per 12 oz.).”

When asked about these allegations, a Frito-Lay spokesman told Ad Age that Power Bites will include “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.”

The FDA wasn’t the only organization to receive a strongly-worded note from CSPI.

In a recent letter to PepsiCo, the organization’s representative wrote: “caffeine is a mildly addictive stimulant drug that is totally inappropriate to be included in foods consumed by children.”

In response, another Frito-Lay spokesman said, “Cracker Jack’d is a product line specifically developed for adult consumers and will not be marketed to children. All marketing for the products will be exclusively aimed at adult consumers, and the package design and appearance are wholly different from Cracker Jack to ensure there is no confusion among consumers. The presence of coffee and the caffeine that comes with it is clearly called out on both the front and back of the package.”

What do we think, readers? Is this an overreaction on the part of CSPI, or is the concern warranted in light of recent controversies over potential dangers of caffeinated energy drinks? Either way, we’re fairly certain that this wasn’t the way Frito-Lay planned to introduce its newest product to the public.

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