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
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
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.