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July 2, 2018

Where’s the Pork? (Hint: Not in Nathan’s Hot Dogs!)

Filed under: Business,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:43 am

A big national class action antitrust lawsuit was filed last week alleging that major food companies conspired to overcharge consumers for bacon, ham, hot dogs and other pork products.

In a press release issued by one of the law firms, they advise consumers who purchased any of these products that they might be entitled to some money back:

press release excerpt

As a native New Yorker who grew up eating Nathan’s hot dogs at the original Nathan’s stand in Coney Island, MrConsumer knows their frankfurters are all beef and contain no pork.

100% beef

HUGE MOUSE PRINT:

Nathan's package

While all Nathan’s frankfurters are all beef, they do have one variety of fries called “Bacon and Cheddar Crunchy Crinkle Fries.” That product, however, according to the ingredients statement on the Nathan’s website, seemingly doesn’t actually contain any bacon, just artificial or natural flavoring!

MOUSE PRINT:

bacon and cheddar ingredients

So it appears, based on the items listed on their website, that no Nathan’s Famous products contain pork and thus no Nathan’s products that a consumer may have purchased qualify for a refund or are properly included in the list of affected brands. So why was “Nathan’s Famous” listed as one of the offending brands but not a defendant in the case?

The day after the lawsuit was filed, MrConsumer wrote to the two law firms that filed the class action to find out and to advise them that it appeared that Nathan’s Famous had been wrongly accused of anti-competitive conduct. He also alerted the CEO of Nathan’s Famous that his company and products were apparently erroneously called out in the law firm’s press release.

Neither law firm nor Nathan’s responded to our request for comments and an explanation.

So how did Nathan’s Famous get wrapped up in this lawsuit? This is what appears to have happened. Nathan’s Famous is distributed by the John Morrell Company, which is owned by Smithfield Foods. And Smithfield Foods is a defendant in the lawsuit because they sell other brands and products that do contain pork. Somehow the law firms apparently did not understand that Nathan’s Famous is an independent company not owned by Smithfield and that Nathan’s only sells 100% beef franks.

MOUSE PRINT:

Nathan's distributor

How could they have known these key facts about Nathan’s? Well, they just could have picked up a package, read the fine print, read the big print, and checked the Nathan’s website!

The law firm also listed Steak-eze as an affected brand. According to the Steak-eze website, and certainly implied in their brand name, they only sell beef products also.




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December 18, 2017

Some Diners Don’t Appreciate “Kitchen Appreciation”

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

Friends of MrConsumer have been trained to check the fine print of their transactions. A bit of scrutiny of a recent restaurant bill revealed a surprising add-on to the check:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Kitchen appreication

An extra charge of $1.29 called “kitchen appreciation” was added to the tab. When my friend asked the server what that was, he got kind of a muddled explanation, and was told to check the menu.

On the Sweet Cheeks menu (which is owned by first season Top Chef finalist Tiffany Faison) there is a disclosure that reads in part:

WE ARE IMPLEMENTING A 3% KITCHEN APPRECIATION FEE TO THE GUEST CHECK THAT WILL DIRECTLY BENEFIT OUR BACK OF THE HOUSE (BOH) TEAM.

WE STRUGGLE WITH THE DISPARITIES BETWEEN FRONT OF THE HOUSE (FOH) AND BOH WAGES.

THE WAGE GAP BETWEEN THE FOH AND BOH HAS BECOME STAGGERING. FOH EMPLOYEES EARN NEARLY THREE TIMES MORE THAN THEIR BOH COUNTERPARTS.

THE KITCHEN APPRECIATION FEE ALLOWS ALL BOH EMPLOYEES TO DIRECTLY BENEFIT FROM THE TOP LINE SUCCESS OF THE RESTAURANT.

Put simply, the customer is being told that they must subsidize the comparatively low wages of the kitchen staff by being surcharged 3-percent on the total bill. (MrConsumer might point out that the restaurant then appears to charge meals tax on top of this kitchen tip which is probably not authorized under state law.)

Sweet Cheeks didn’t come up with this idea on their own. Famous New York restaurateur Danny Meyer two years ago started the ball rolling by no longer allowing tipping so he could instead charge more for meals and then more equitably distribute the extra income between servers and kitchen staff. Other restaurants began adding hospitality fees as a way to better pay and retain kitchen staff.

So, what do you think about adding a 3-percent “kitchen appreciation” fee automatically to restaurant bills? Add your comments below.




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October 9, 2017

FDA to Manufacturer: If You Make a Product with Love, Don’t Advertise It

Filed under: Business,Food/Groceries,Health,Humor,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:07 am

Some federal agencies have been subjected to criticism lately that they are not policing the marketplace as much as they did in the past to protect consumers. For example, Bloomberg reported two weeks ago that the Food and Drug Administration was sending 30 percent fewer warning letters to companies about serious health and safety violations than they did every year since 2008.

Now comes news that in September, the FDA sent a warning letter to Nashoba Brook Bakery in Massachusetts alleging serious violations discovered when it spent three days inspecting their manufacturing facility.

FDA warning letter

Besides citing instances of unsanitary conditions that inspectors discovered, it noted a serious labeling violation on packages of Nashoba Granola.

Nashoba granola

*MOUSE PRINT:

Love ingredient

Love ingredient

Yes, dear friends, Nashoba Brook Bakery was charged with selling misbranded products because they creatively made their granola with “love” and included that on the label.

John Gates, the CEO of the bakery, explained to Mouse Print* that while they will remedy the sanitary deficiencies cited by the FDA, “we will continue to put care, attention, passion and LOVE at the center of what we do. That’s who we are and who we want to be.”

We say the FDA should concentrate on real health and safety violations like the other findings in their letter. But, have a little heart (and common sense) when it comes to unofficial ingredients like love.




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September 18, 2017

Is It a Feature Story or a Commercial?

Filed under: Business,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:50 am

On September 6, Inside Edition ran a story during their daily program where a dermatologist was being interviewed giving tips to viewers on how to maintain a youthful, healthy appearance. Toward the end of the segment she recommends a particular product for the face and neck.

Here is the web version of the story (which may vary slightly from the TV version which our story is about):



Click arrow to play video

It only began to sound fishy when the dermatologist started ticking off all the benefits of the cream and then said it was a bargain at Target.

To the best of MrConsumer’s memory, there was no conspicuous disclosure at the beginning of the TV version of the piece nor at the end to indicate that the doctor was a paid endorser, as it appears at the end of web version.

In fact, it was at the end of the TV show in the credits that the following disclosure appeared, captured live as it aired:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Inside Edition disclaimer

So what’s the problem here? There are actually two issues. First, this story had the look and feel of any other segment on Inside Edition when in fact it was a mini-infomercial for a product. In Federal Trade Commission-speak, this is “native advertising” where an ad is made to look just like the surrounding content in form and style. And the FTC has guidelines saying there should be clear and conspicuous disclosure that this is actually advertising.

There were some half-hearted attempts within the piece to make disclosures. The voiceover states in passing toward the beginning “we teamed up with No7.” The trouble is the viewer has no idea what “No7” is because it is not a familiar product name and has not yet been introduced on the screen. That disclosure doesn’t clearly convey that this is really an ad. It is several minutes after the piece ends in the TV version that the bold on-screen disclosure is made, as shown just above.

Secondly, under the FTC’s guides governing endorsements and testimonials, since it appeared that the doctor was merely a guest being interviewed on a television program and was not acting in a commercial, the viewer would have no idea she was being paid by the manufacturer. Thus, a clear disclosure of that fact was necessary. In our view, the identifier thrown up on the screen for a mere three seconds — “Dr. Doris Day — Dermatologist/No7 Spokesperson” — would not be noticed or understood by most viewers to clearly convey the fact that this doctor had been paid for these comments. And the disclosure at the end of the program was too late.

Dr. Doris Day

We wrote to the executive producer of Inside Edition raising these issues, asking why better disclosure was not made, and whether it would be in future pieces. To date, no response has been received.




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August 13, 2017

Samsung’s TV Warranty Suggests Limiting Your Viewing of Certain Stations/Programs or Else!

Filed under: Business,Electronics,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 1:28 pm

While reading the warranty for a recently purchased Samsung HDTV, MrConsumer did a double-take reviewing one particular section.

But first, you have to understand a little about the screen dimensions of high definition televisions vs. the old-fashioned cathode ray tube ones. Old TV screens were more boxy — almost close to a square. They were 4:3 perspective. That is, left to right, the screen was only slightly wider than it was high. High definition television screens are usually 16:9 — much wider than high — more like a movie screen.

If you watch a standard definition TV channel, or an old television show that was not shot in high definition, you usually see black bars left and right of the picture:

black bars

Those programs are in 4:3 format and when viewed on a 16:9 screen, there is space left over on the left and right — thus the black bars. In some cases, if a program was only produced in HD, but you are viewing it on a standard definition channel, you will see black bars on all four sides of the picture.

Now back to the Samsung warranty. In its own separate section of the warranty, Samsung warns purchasers not to spend more than 5% of their TV-watching time viewing standard definition programs or channels! What? A TV manufacturer is telling users what they can and cannot watch on their own TV?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Samsung 5% warranty warning

The warranty actually says that you shouldn’t watch standard definition programs and channels (unless you stretch and distort them to fill the screen) for more than 5% of the time each week. That means if you watch 20 hours of TV a week, you can’t watch more than one or two episodes of your favorite old shows a week without potentially voiding part of your warranty.

The problem, they say, is “burn-in” — where something that is constantly on the screen and not moving causes the image to be seared into the display permanently. Think of the old pong video game where you had a white box on the screen for hours at a time. That could get burned in to the old cathode ray screens. The same problem exists for LCD and LED TVs apparently, but to a much lesser extent.

We asked Samsung why it manufacturers televisions that cannot support SD programs and SD channels in their original 4:3 format without potentially damaging the TV and voiding a part of the warranty? Here is their (non-) answer:

“Samsung is committed to the highest quality and most immersive TV viewing experience for all consumers. We provide customers with guidance to ensure the best performance of their devices. We encourage consumers to enjoy their preferred content on their TV while understanding the suggested ways to get the most out of their product.” –Samsung spokesperson

The spokesperson did note that the company offers a lifetime warranty against burn-in, but only on last year’s high-end SUHD line, and this year’s premium QLED line.

We also wondered if other manufacturers were cautioning viewers to limit watching standard definition TV. Sure enough, on LG’s website, they have a similar warning:

LG burn in

So kiss goodbye your old episodes of “I Love Lucy” and “All in the Family” as well as watching the entire array of standard definition channels, like 2, 4, 5 and 7 for any significant length of time.




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