“Sugar-coated” marketing

by Khushboo on March 23, 2012

As someone who grew up in the 90s, I have likely consumed my body weight in sweets like Jolly Ranchers, Gushers, Nerds, Fruit Roll-Ups &  of course Fruit By The Foot…which is why I was immediately interested to read about a recent lawsuit against General Mills.  Given the increased interest in good health & well-being , it’s no surprise that General Mills decided to rethink their marketing and positioning strategies.

Although their claims were fully truthful, The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a class action lawsuit alleging that General Mills is guilty of misleading the public about the nutritional benefits of eating their fruit-flavored snacks.  For a while, their packaging contained terms like “low fat”, “gluten free”, “low calorie”, “naturally flavored” and a “good source of Vitamin C”.  In other words, the company tried to sugar-coat their products as being healthier and more wholesome than they actually are.

Unsurprisingly General Mills failed to provide further information about their products, such as they contain:

  • Trans fat
  • Added sugars
  • Artificial food dyes

and lack:

  • Significant amounts of real, natural fruit
  • Dietary fiber

Healthy or not, I have nothing against Fruit Roll-Ups (I will always have a soft spot for them).  However I do have a  problem with deceitful marketing strategies, especially when there are a huge number of individuals/parents who don’t know better.  As a consumer, I am automatically attracted to foods which have catchphrases like “organic”, “gluten-free”, “vegan”, “and omega-3 fortified” on the label but it’s important to remember that these only paint part of the picture.  In other words, these products may be doing more harm than good to our diet without us even realizing.  For example:

1) Gluten-free: Individuals with gluten intolerances usually suffer digestive problems and cut out gluten sources such as wheat and grains.  Although cutting out gluten has become popular with those wanting to lose weight, it’s essentially just another means of cutting calories.  White gluten-free options may ease bloatedness, that doesn’t mean they are always healthier.  For example, gluten-free cereals are often not iron-fortified, which is necessary for energy and helping your body transport oxygen and absorb nutrients.  As for gluten-free biscuit and snacks, check out the sugar content!

2) Vegan: Rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains, vegan diets are naturally low in cholesterol, calories, and fat.  As a result, they are not only healthy but can also help prevent obesity, diabetes some forms of cancer, and heart disease.  However that’s not to say all vegan products are nutritionally sound. The other day I picked up a box of “Boca Original Vegan Burgers”  and put it right back down after reading the list of ingredients:

Ingredients: WATER, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, WHEAT GLUTEN, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF METHYLCELLULOSE, SALT, CARAMEL COLOR, DRIED ONIONS, YEAST EXTRACT, SESAME OIL, HYDROLYZED WHEAT PROTEIN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR (NON-MEAT), DISODIUM GUANYLATE, DISODIUM INOSINATE. CONTAINS: SOY, WHEAT, SESAME.

Personally, I’d rather eat a burger made purely from non-organic meat.

3) Low-calorie/ Fat-free/Light: At one stage or another, I am sure we have all bought into this craze.  Especially when trying to lose weight, these are a great way to enjoy treats without bearing the caloric consequences…or so it seems.  While naturally fat-free foods like egg-whites, fruits, vegetables, brown rice, and oats are all-round healthy, it’s unlikely the same can be said about ”fat-free” packaged goods.  In order to reduce a product’s fat content while maintaining its flavor, chances are the manufacturer has pumped up the product’s overall sugar  content…perhaps even more so than the full-fat variety.  Just for an idea:

Carte D’Or Vanilla Light Ice Cream: Reconstituted Skimmed Milk, Water, Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Oligofructose Syrup, Vegetable Fat, Whey Solids, Stabilisers (Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Carrageenan), Emulsifier (Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids), Natural Vanilla Flavouring from Madagascar, Vanilla Bean Pieces, Colour (Mixed Carotenes).

Regular Vanilla Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream: Fresh Cream, Skimmed Milk, Sugar Solution (Sugar, Water), Egg Yolk, Natural Flavoring: Vanilla, Sugar

And finally, for product labels which boast:

4) “Added vitamins and omega-3s”, save your money where possible!  Most foods have vitamins, which is why it is a clever marketing ploy to highlight this fact.  Breads, for instance, already contain omega-3s, so paying a buck or 2 extra isn’t necessarily worth it, unless you don’t eat fish, nuts, seeds or vegetables.  In such cases, these kinds of products are only necessary if you have been diagnosed as deficient in a certain nutrient.

Nutritious or not, what was a favorite sweet/chocolate when you were growing up?

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Parita March 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm

M&Ms are and always will be my favorite!

But really, I get so mad when I read about how food companies mislead the public. But after researching more about it, I’ve found that Big Food industry and the govenment are best buds, so what more can you expect…

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Khushboo Thadani March 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Peanut or plain? I think I’m more of a fan of the former!

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Parita March 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Me too!!! And the brown ones are the best!!

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Alexandra March 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Dude I get so tired of some of the crazy claims society makes with food items, sometimes you’re just like, “really?!” haha What ever happened to truth?
As a kid, my favorite candy hands down was Reese’s, closely followed by Gushers and Nerds :)

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Khushboo Thadani March 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Nerds were soo good- Dweebs were a poor knock-off!

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Hansa March 23, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Thanks Khushboo for pointing out the sugar coated facts. It’s so easy to get fooled.
I think it’s better to use common sense and just watch the quantities. I tend to overeat something if I find it’s low fat or lite, etc.

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Khushboo Thadani March 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm

“common sense”- exactly!

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forgottenbeast March 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Ohh man, Fruit by the Foot?? I’d completely forgotten about that amazing childhood treat! I want to buy one now, just for the nostalgia. While fully knowing I’m not exactly consuming “real” food…

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Khushboo Thadani March 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Haha same here- I’m not sure I’d enjoy them as much but it’s nice to relive good ol’ childhood!

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Honey What's Cooking March 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Great article. My biggest issue is people who love Earth Balance or Smart Balance, I just feel the list of ingredients is complete nonsense. If you look at butter, it’s only 2 ingredients, cream and salt. Studies have shows in India people have been eating ghee for generations, and although I don’t eat ghee because we get enough fat from cakes, I believe the artificial stuff will do a lot more damage at the end. I don’t believe in vegan burgers, vegetarian, yes, but not vegan. Have you checked out Dr. Praeger’s? Don’t remember how bad the ingredient list is.

To answer your question – in Nigeria – SMARTIES! I’m so glad you can relate. I would always get the one with the letter ‘H’ for honey! And when I moved to the USA at 9, I loved Almond Joy! I couldn’t believe the variety of chocolate they had here. :-)

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Khushboo Thadani March 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Completely agree with you about Earth Balance/Smart Balance..and even margarine for that matter! I haven’t heard of Dr. Prareger’s burgers but you’re right about vegetarian burgers being more palpatable than some vegan burgers on offer! And Smarties are definitely a favorite of mine too- I wish they didn’t discontinue the Giant Smarties variety!

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Honey What's Cooking March 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm

omg, and what did you buy from zara, send me links.. or add them here. :-) ))

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Brittany March 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Labels are a scary thing if you don’t know how to decipher them! I am a label Nazi I swear. I too loooveeed fruit by the foot growing up, I would stuff the whole thing into my mouth and suck on it forever. Anything sugary, watermelon jolly ranchers were my JAM!

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Khushboo Thadani March 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Ah we would have worked well as a Jolly Rancher team- I hated the watermelon & apple flavors so I’d always be lumped with them by the end of it (and would naturally resort to eating them)! Cherry, blue raspberry and grape were my fave!

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JoJo March 23, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I loved chocolate covered almonds growing up.. and I still do!
Indeed there are many deceiving words on the packaging, we just have to be a smarter shopper!

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Khushboo Thadani March 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Chocolate covered almonds are so good…even better when they’re mixed with yogurt covered raisins!

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sprint2thetable March 23, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more! The marketing around all of the “enhanced” or “low-fat-calorie-etc” foods drives my nuts. Fruit snacks with artificial ingredients and 30g of sugar are NOT a health food!

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Meg March 23, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Great post hunnie!

You are on a roll with all of these amazing posts! So interesting!!!!!!

When I was young I seriously didn’t eat crap like the other kids did. I don’t think I EVER had a dunkaroo in my life. And you know what? I have only had ONE Oreo hahahahahaha. I am weird

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Khushboo Thadani March 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Thanks so much Meg, really appreciate that you’ve been enjoying my posts! Is it terrible that trans fats or not, I LOVE Dunkaroos and Oreos?? :)

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Nada March 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Oh man, fruit by the foot! That takes me back. But anyways, great points here – It’s definitely important to take note of ingredients and not just rely on less than honest marketing ploys. People often don’t believe me when I tell them just how easy it is to be a junk food vegan – just because it’s free of animal products doesn’t mean it’s free of all those nasty processing chemicals and additives!

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Khushboo Thadani March 25, 2012 at 10:49 am

Apparently honesty isn’t always the best policy eh? ;) !

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Ameena March 25, 2012 at 1:59 am

Nothing I ate growing up was super nutritious…I didn’t have the best eating habits! But chocolate ice cream was my worst offender. I swear, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t have at least one bowl!

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Khushboo Thadani March 25, 2012 at 10:49 am

That sounds like me and Kit Kat Chunkys…without fail, I ate one daily- good times haha!

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Charissa (@ColourfulPalate) March 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

Here. Here!!! There is nothing healthy about some of these foods…I mean, margarine. No, no! Horrid stuff.

Have to say, I Love the comic at the end. Fat free middle of the donut. Pretty much!! :)

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Khushboo Thadani March 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

Just the word margarine icks me out now- please pass the butter :) !

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turtlespdrunner March 25, 2012 at 2:13 pm

So true. It really annoys me when companies put labels on packets of LOLLIES (candy lol) with claims like gluten-free, fat free etc…. well, of course it is… because it’s full of SUGAR…sugar, and sugar!!
But people most likely still buy into that.
Hmm favourite sweet growing up… cloud lollies… they were kinda like sour gummi bears but really soft, red and cloud shaped…and made your fingers red eating them :)

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Khushboo Thadani March 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of those..but if they’re the red flavor, I am sure I’d be a fan :)

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Christina Does It All March 25, 2012 at 8:56 pm

I’ve been learning about these kind of these deceitful marketing tactics in my mass media class….so frustrating!
Also, kind of random, but I tried coconut milk ice cream the other day and it was incredible! Better than regular I thought.

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Khushboo Thadani March 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I can imagine it tasting great, especially since coconut milk itself is so creamy & delicious!

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Tessa at Amazing Assett March 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Great post, seriously such an interesting read. I get so sick of some of the “healthy” claims out there, they are incredibly absurd at times. I have seen a Twix bar claiming to only be 200 calories but then there are two servings in there… who only eats one serving of a tasty candy bar?! Gah. If you are not paying attention to the facts, then you could miss it and easily eat 400 calories
Dunkin donuts and Haggen Daz ice cream were my personal favorites!

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Khushboo Thadani March 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Haha seriously…how anyone can open a bar of Twix without finishing it is beyond me! Haagen Daaz was (and still is) a favorite of mine, specifically the cookies ‘n’ cream flavor!

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Kiran March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am

I have a soft spot for Kit Kats — no joke ;)

Have you watched the food documentary, “Food Inc”? It unearths the sickening food industry. Hard to swallow after watching.

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Khushboo Thadani March 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Have you tried Kit Kat chunkies- takes Kit Kat to a whole new level! I have heard of Food Inc although never seen it- I am sure I would share your sentiments though!

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