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  • New Products, Same Old Deception

    I enjoy keeping up with Big Food’s product releases. Not only is it mind-blowing to see how many different ways you can rearrange crop subsidies, unhealthful oils, and added sugars to come up with “new” items; it’s also fun to see what front-of-package health claims and call-outs are trotted out.

    The three products below may be new on the shelf, but the “wholesome and healthy” deception is the same old dog and pony show.

    Keebler Wheatables Nut Crisps Crunchy Cashew Crackers

    The Callout: “Made with stone-ground wheat”

    Why It’s Used: To paint a deceptive picture of a high-fiber, whole-grain, healthier product. The FDA does not have any laws surrounding the use of “stone-ground” on packaging.

    Reality: Enriched flour (white flour) is the first ingredient. Stone ground whole wheat flour is present, but it appears in such a minuscule amount that each serving (16 crackers) contains less than 1 gram of fiber. In other words, it takes at least 48 of these crackers to match the amount of fiber in one slice of 100% whole wheat bread.

    Sunshine Cheez-It Colby Crackers

    The Callout: “Made with real cheese”

    Why It’s Used: To give the illusion of a true-to-nature product (“look, we aren’t deceptive! We aren’t ‘cheese-flavored’, we use real cheese.”), and get consumers’ guards down.

    Reality: Sure, these crackers contain real cheese… along with omega-6 loaded (and likely GMO) soybean oil, the artificial and petroleum-derived preservative TBHQ, artificial flavors, and two artificial dyes. A more accurate call-out? “Made With Real Cheese And A Whole Lot of Fake Stuff”.

    Quaker Chewy Cocoa Granola Bars

    The Callout: “No High Fructose Corn Syrup”

    Why It’s Used: It provides a sense of ‘wholesomeness’, and also serves as a distractor. Food companies are aware that many consumers are turned off by the inclusion of HFCS (and often scan ingredient lists looking for it), so they are providing a heads-up. How thoughtful!

    Reality: The absence of HFCS is meaningless when the ingredient list name drops food dyes (three in the ‘chocolatey caramel’ variety, two for the ‘chocolatey mint’) , corn syrup solids, soybean oil, and the controversial preservative BHT.

    Bonus BS Call-Out: This product also employs one of my personal pet-peeves — the ‘x grams of whole grain” call-out. The concept is convoluted, and there is truly no reason why consumers should bother trying to make sense of it. Instead, focus on actual grams of fiber. Not surprisingly, these granola bars only contain 1 gram of fiber a piece (hence the “grams of whole grain” hype on the front of the package).

    The front of food packaging offers hype and marketing; the back offers the truth. As these examples show, call-outs are there to deceive and confuse, not enlighten.  Read labels, read ingredient lists, and you won’t be fooled.

    Share

    8 Comments

    1. Alexander J. Rinehart, MS, DC, CCN said on October 17th, 2011

      There’s a hidden assumption that food companies are responsible for our health…but in reality, they’re just a bystander. The onus of control still comes back to purchasing decisions: “vote with every bite”.

      As long as we continue buying these products, the longer the companies can continue lobbying for less regulatory standards, and the more that unhealthy products are released. By subsidizing the ingredients in most processed food, we are incentivizing one of the most important determinants of food choice: cost.

      Success will occur when we make healthier foods cheaper (without more GMO, pesticides), and more convenient. I wish this is where innovation was headed. For those of us leading the charge, THANK YOU!

    2. Mitzi said on October 17th, 2011

      The “grams of whole grain” thing is an automatic turn-off for me, as it means that there’s usually a lot of non-whole-food stuff in the box. 8 grams of whole grain in an entire granola bar? From an oat company? How is that possible?
      I’ve been making my own bars, breads, muffins and cookies now for years for that reason. If you want to eat things out of boxes, do NOT get a Ph.D. in biochemistry. As soon as you scan the ingredient list, you sigh and head for the baking aisle.

    3. Andy Bellatti said on October 17th, 2011

      Mitzi,

      I fully agree with you. The 8 grams is possible because they add so many other ingredients, that the oats get crowded out and you can only get 8 grams in a whole bar!

    4. Andy Bellatti said on October 17th, 2011

      Alex,

      Thank you for your comment. Yes — food companies have profit as a goal. And that’s fine; the issue I (and others, like yourself) have is when they attempt to pass off unhealthy food with a halo of wellness and nutrition. The claims, the call-outs, the deceptive language…. it’s all too much. Agricultural subsidies play a huge role, indeed. I don’t think we would have 29 different varieties of Pop-Tarts if the sourcing ingredients weren’t so cheap.

    5. Elizabeth Lee, MS RD said on October 18th, 2011

      Thanks for continuing exposing Big Food’s sneaky ways, Andy! Here’s one of the latest products that has caught my eyes and not in a good way: Kellogg’s Mini Frosted Wheat with Touch of Fruit: http://www2.kelloggs.com/ProductDetail.aspx?id=23811

      I’m amazed how HFCS can appear TWICE in the list. Not to mention the majority of the list comprising of some kind of sugar. Eek.

    6. Andy Bellatti said on October 18th, 2011

      Elizabeth,

      Oh, my pleasure — glad you enjoy the unmasking. I featured “Touch of Fruit” Frosted Mini Wheats in February — you can see the post here: http://smallbites.andybellatti.com/?p=6620

    7. Lauren Slayton said on October 18th, 2011

      I would love the FDA to line up 20 consumers and ask them what they felt these claims implied. My older son, 9, is very interested in food and is totally misled by these labels. We talk about healthy children but “contains whole grains” or “made with real cheese” is just as bad as cartoon characters for kids. And to have to tell him “those are lies” what does that instill? Junk is junk but wish it wasn’t presented as something else.

    8. Bob said on February 25th, 2014

      Once again, the industry tries to confuse the consumer by grandstanding this “whole grains” concept-an industry fraud that is pure hoax. Remember the upsidedown food pyramid that the government foisted on us in the 50′s and 60′s? The broad base of the pyramid represented the foods we should eat the most of-pasta, rice potatoes, bread and whole grains. 40 years later, we have an uncontrolled obesity epidemic, and now here come whole grains again-re-invented for consumers everywhere.
      Remember people, whole grain is what they feed cattle to fatten them up.

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