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Gerber Answers Critics With Full-Page Ads, Coupons

February 24, 1996

FREMONT, Mich. (AP) _ Gerber Products Inc. fought back a consumer group’s criticism about the quality of its baby food with full-page newspaper ads saying ``Gerber sets the record straight on nutrition.″

Gerber, which has about 70 percent of the baby food market, also included in the ad a $1 coupon off the purchase of 12 jars.

Last week, the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming that Gerber is misleading people by saying its food is superior in nutrition. It said Gerber adds water, modified food starch and sugar to many of its products, when other manufacturers don’t use them.

The group asked the FTC to prohibit Gerber from making deceptive nutritional claims. The company calls the complaint ``utter nonsense.″

In the ad, which appeared Friday in The New York Times, USA Today and other metropolitan papers across the country, Gerber said it uses tapioca in some recipes to add texture and a small amount of sugar in others to provide flavor ``without compromising the nutritional value.″

The company also said it makes more than 190 different kinds of baby food, including many that have just a single ingredient plus a little purified water.

Gerber said it also has plans for television ads.

The campaign suggests that criticism by the Washington-based consumer group may have hit a nerve among parents. Spokesman Van Hindes said the company did some research by phone, but he declined to elaborate. ``Parents may have been misled,″ he said.

The center’s consumer studies often receive wide publicity and have at times prompted big changes by business. They have taken a critical look at food in family-style, Chinese, Mexican and Italian restaurants, delicatessen sandwiches and movie-theater popcorn.

The director of the center said Friday the Gerber ad is shameful.

``Gerber would better serve its customers by taking this ad budget and using it to put more real food in its products,″ Michael Jacobson said.

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