During my advertising days, my colleagues and I prided ourselves on uncovering consumer insights and true core benefits of the products we marketed.
Our philosophy was grounded in respect for the consumer and the deep belief that when connecting the right product with the right audience, magic will ensue. Which is one of the many reasons why misleading marketing on food products irks me to no end. It is neither insightful nor honest, and just darn greedy.
Really, Cocoa Krispies, the “chocolaty, sweetened rice cereal” will help boost your child’s immunity AND provide 25% of daily antioxidants and nutrients (Vitamins A, B, C and E)? If I want to boost a kid’s immune system, Cocoa Krispies may literally be the last place I turn. Sigh.
Dark chocolate covered fruit snacks often contain no fruit at all. Brookside Acai and Blueberry packaging shows pictures of blueberries, and touts it as a “natural source of flavanol antioxidants.” One look at the ingredient list however will unveil “natural” flavors, corn syrup and fruit juice concentrate (among other sugars).
Misleading claims are prevalent and confusion rampant. According to a Nielsen Study, nearly 59% of consumers have a hard time understanding nutrition labels. I think that percentage low!
Just look at the many names for sugar. To add insult to injury, “sugar free” products may contain sugar alcohols. Isn’t that just another form of sweetener? Answer: yes.
By law an item can be labeled “Zero Trans Fats” if it has less than .5 grams of trans fat. I don’t know about you, but to me that means it has trans fat. Not according to the label though!
Health.com issued a list of 16 of the most misleading food labels. It’s no surprise that the list contains many processed foods promoting healthy benefits.
What may surprise you though, is that “All Natural” is top of the list. There is no definition or standard needed to include “All Natural” on a label. It is open to interpretation and thus could mean the food is genetically modified, have artificial colors and/or high fructose corn syrup, among other not-so-made-from-nature ingredients.
The FDA is being called upon by many to pinpoint a definition and today’s article in the New York Times outlines just how tricky that may be (which is probably why they avoided it until now). In 2014 the FDA opened up the issue for public comment and received 7,600 responses until closing the comment period last week.
This is a hot topic among consumers, food experts, legal authorities and companies as Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on cereals, breads, yogurts, beverages, and other foods identified as “all natural.” $40 billion!
Consumer Reports did a story in January and found that more than 60 percent of Americans buy products labeled "natural," but they may not be buying what they think.
The bottom line is it’s a free for all out there, and the only way to take control is to either avoid products with “natural ingredients” altogether or dig deeper to define them. Continue to put pressure on the FDA to settle on a clear, simple definition. I’d like to see them list out each ingredient whenever stating “natural.”
It could be years before this is decided so in the meantime, use some of the many tools available to help educate consumers.
- Center for Food Safety “misleading claims” definitions
- Food Facts rating lists
- Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores
- Non-GMO Project Shopping Guide
We work so hard to be healthful, don’t be naturally deceived by misleading or undefined language. Be your own advocate and lead the charge among your friends, family and colleagues.
Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™