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April 24, 2017

Does Prevagen Really Work?

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:19 am

Everyone has seen the TV commercials for a pill made from a chemical originally found in jellyfish. But you may not remember the product’s name nor what it is supposed to do.

The product is Prevagen and it is supposed to improve your memory.

Here is one of their ads from 2014:


What the commercials don’t disclose is that the Federal Trade Commission and the New York Attorney General’s office recently sued the makers of Prevagen alleging they did not have reliable studies to back up their claims.

In particular, the commercials assert that it is a chemical found in jellyfish that is the magic ingredient to make your brain work better. The FTC and NY-AG say that the company’s own studies show that this chemical never actually reaches the brain! (See the court filings.)

And the FTC has gotten complaints about the product. Here are some of them.

The company, Quincy Bioscience, released a statement vehemently denying the allegations. In part it says:

“Prevagen is safe. Neither the FTC nor the New York Attorney General has alleged that Prevagen can cause or has caused harm to anyone. And hundreds of thousands people tell us it works and improves their lives.

Quincy has amassed a large body of evidence that Prevagen improves memory and supports healthy brain function.”

So who and what is a consumer to believe?


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March 20, 2017

The Secret Behind Shrinking Corned Beef

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:12 am

Clara Peller, the feisty senior who famously questioned the lack of meat in Wendy’s competitors’ burgers, could well reprise her memorable line, “where’s the beef,” when it comes to corned beef.

Cooks across the country surely noticed last week that the plump corned beef brisket they boiled for St. Patrick’s Day emerged from the pot only a fraction of its original size. Most people probably chalked it up to the high fat content of corned beef. But that is only part of the reason.

Had all of us paid more attention to the package the corned beef came in, we would know the primary reason for the shrinkage.


corned beef

corned beef

What? Thirty-five percent watery brine? You bet. And we are not talking about water with a 35% concentration of salt and chemicals that the brisket took a bath in. The solution is actually injected into the meat to plump it up big time. According to meat packers that MrConsumer consulted, while the solution is in deed needed to “corn” the beef, manufacturers that inject their briskets with more than 20% solution are doing so for economic reasons.

A three pound piece of beef brisket plumped up with 35% solution magically becomes about a four pound brisket. That’s how stores can sell raw corned beef in Cryovac packages for only $1.69 a pound around St. Patrick’s Day. And this is all perfectly legal as long as the percentage of solution is stated on the package if over 20%.

One corned beef manufacturer candidly put it this way, “We’re basically selling water.”


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February 13, 2017

When the Chips are Down in Fat, Are the Calories Too?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:40 am

Diet-conscious consumers are probably attracted to low-fat products. And in the case of potato chips, they probably feel a bit less guilty indulging in that treat if it contains less fat.

Enter Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat potato chips:

Cape Cod potato chips

Now don’t assume that the reduced fat chips on the right have 40% less fat than the Cape Cod regular chips on the left.


fat reduction claim

The reduced fat chips contain 40% less fat than the market leader, Lay’s potato chips. Lay’s has 10 grams of fat per ounce, Cape Cod 40% Reduced has six grams – 40% less as advertised, and regular Cape Cod has eight grams. This means that Cape Cod Reduced Fat chips contain 25% less fat than their own regular chips — still a substantial savings.

Dieters, however, are not only concerned about fat but calories as well. Would you care to venture a guess as to how many fewer calories Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat chips has compared to their regular chips?


Cape Cod chips nutrition label

What? The lower fat chips have exactly the same number of calories — 140 — as their regular full-fat chips? Yep, that’s what the nutrition (alternative?) facts label says.

How can that be? The portion size is exactly the same – 28 grams — as is the number of chips per portion, but there is 25% less fat in one product.

So we posed that very question to the PR folks at Snyder’s-Lance, the makers of Cape Cod chips. And we also wanted to know whether they felt they had an obligation to dispel the likely consumer misimpression that their 40% fat reduced chips were lower in calories than their own regular variety. In reply, after three attempts to obtain answers, all the company (through their PR firm) would say relevant to our questions was this:

With regards to the calories in each item, we adhere to the strict FDA regulations that dictate how companies must calculate and report nutritional information.

Clearly something just doesn’t add up here. The company should be able to explain to customers how it is possible that their substantially reduced in fat product offers no caloric savings if in fact the label is correct.


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January 30, 2017

Walgreens Misleads Customers on Rewards Program, Potentially Pocketing Millions

Filed under: Health,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:11 am

Consumer World Investigation

[Pressed for time? Read a summary of this story here.]

Like many drugstore chains, Walgreens has a loyalty program and they call it Balance Rewards. You earn points on most everything you buy, and points collected can be used like cash toward future purchases.

In April 2015, the company recognized some of the less appealing aspects of the program and notified members via email and on their website that starting May 31, 2015 they would have more ways to earn points:

Walgreens email

Great news — one can now earn points on prescriptions. (That asterisk only referred to limitations in a handful of states.) And sure enough, by early June 2015, Walgreens updated the main Balance Rewards webpage to indicate that “all” prescriptions – both 30 and 90-day ones — would earn points.

MrConsumer, like probably millions of others, orders 90-day prescriptions for maintenance drugs via Walgreens’ mail order service at Walgreens.com and was expecting to finally earn points on these purchases. It’s not a lot of money — you earn about a dollar for every three such prescriptions ordered or reordered.

Fast forward to February 2016. MrConsumer wondered how many points he had accumulated on prescriptions over the past nine months or so, so he checked his balance. A surprising ZERO was earned. He then wrote to customer service asking what happened and got this response:


Regretfully, you do only earn points for prescriptions if you fill your medications locally, rather than via Mail Order. Also, I have included a link to the Balance Rewards Terms and Conditions so that you may locate this information, if you would like to look.

That link to their February 2016 terms and conditions said nothing about online prescriptions being excluded from earning points. In fact, it said the opposite:


With the exception of photo orders (which require “store pickup” in order to earn Points), items ordered online and delivered to your home will earn Points as they would if purchased in store.

Now fast forward again to last week. Their website as of January 24, 2017 continued to advertise that you get 100/300 points for filling prescriptions both in-store and online, and that all prescriptions earn points:

Points online and in-store

– – –
All earn points

Note: footnote references shown above only relate to an exclusion in three states.

And this 2017 national television commercial also proclaims that all prescriptions earn points:

Walgreens TV ad

So, we asked Walgreens’ PR folks last Monday (January 23) why points were not provided as represented in advertisements and in multiples places on their website, and wanted to know what they were going to do to resolve the issue. In a statement, Walgreens replied:

“As stated on our website in the Frequently Asked Questions, only prescriptions picked up in-store are eligible to earn Balance Rewards points at this time. We are always appreciative of customer and member feedback, and take it into consideration as we continually review program materials. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.” – Emily Hartwig-Mekstan, Walgreens Media Relations Manager

Rather than admitting that the company unintentionally or carelessly goofed and that they would immediately fix the misleading representations, (or perish the thought, go back and make consumers whole), they suggested all was fine because one FAQ revealed the true facts. Incidentally, the main page for program details about Balance Rewards has no such FAQ except as it relates to drugs for pets and children. Only in the general help section for Walgreens.com under Balance Rewards, nowhere near where the points earning claims are made, is there a question among three dozen others that discloses that only prescriptions picked up in-store can earn rewards.

And remember that fine print terms and conditions statement (shown above) that says the only product category that requires in-store pickup to earn points is photos? Well, that was the wording until the day after our inquiry! Believe it or not, the very next day (1/24/2017) Walgreens inconspicuously amended their terms and conditions to now exclude prescriptions from earning points unless picked up in the store:


Exception added 1/24/17

What a coincidence in timing.

And to try to cover themselves on the main Balance Rewards page, a couple of days after our inquiry, they inconspicuously added a few words and a footnote to limit points earnings on prescriptions to in-store purchases only. These changes were made in the very places we had pointed out to them. We’ve highlighted their changes in red boxes below. [Compare to original.]

*MOUSE PRINT: (Use scrollbar below on the right to view.)

Walgreens Balance Rewards change

There is no word if they plan to change their television commercial.

In fiscal 2016, Walgreens filled 740 million prescriptions in its retail division, which includes mail order. It is unclear what percentage of those prescriptions were in-store versus mail order, but clearly, millions of consumers never got the likely millions of dollars of rewards that Walgreens promised.


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January 23, 2017

The New Math at Mio

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:06 am

Mouse Print* reader Jack K. recently wrote to us complaining about Mio water enhancer. This is a little bottle of concentrated flavor that you squirt into a glass of water to give it some flavor and maybe a few vitamins, all while adding zero calories.

Mio label   Mio side label

Jack says that despite the label promising that the product makes 24 eight-ounce glasses, he was getting much less and felt shortchanged. Since the amount a customer squirts into a glass could vary each time, our intrepid consumer used a measuring spoon, following the instructions on the side of the bottle which called for using about 1/2 teaspoon per glass. Lo and behold when he emptied the bottle he had only been able to make the equivalent of 16 eight ounce glasses of flavored water — one-third less than the package promised.

We did a little math using an online conversion program to find out how many half teaspoons are actually in a bottle whose net contents are 1.62 fluid ounces (48 ml).


Mio conversion

There are about nine and three quarter teaspoons worth of syrup in those Mio containers, which is slightly less than 19-1/2 half teaspoons. So just by pure mathematics, each bottle only holds enough product to make about 19 glasses of beverage rather than the 24 claimed.

We contacted the PR folks at Kraft to ask about this discrepancy. They responded in part as follows, without directly addressing our specific math question and example:

MiO Vitamins and our other MiO products are labeled properly.

Other Mio Vitamins products yield 24 servings and have prep instructions that indicate 1 squeeze of approximately 1/2 teaspoon (~1/2 tsp) per 8 floz. We clearly label that this is 2ml/about 1/2tsp for a 1.62oz 48ml) bottle.

So, if you want 24 glasses of Mio from each bottle, you’ll just have to use your handy 2-ml measuring spoon, which, of course, no one owns.


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