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September 17, 2018

Aldi Waters Down Its Margarine… Literally

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:56 am

Aldi is an international chain of limited assortment supermarkets known for very low prices on most items. They carry very few national brands. Rather, store brands dominate their shelves.

In recent months, MrConsumer noticed price increases on various items there like cookies, peanut butter, pretzels, and more. One particular item, their 45-ounce tub of margarine, has had two price increases in recent months. It had been $1.79 for years, but jumped to $1.99 several months ago, and shortly thereafter went up again to $2.29.

Aldi margarine old

Last week, there was another change to this product. The margarine now comes in a rectangular tub:

Aldi margarine new

A closer examination of the package, however, revealed an additional change that was very unwelcome.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Aldi 51%

VS.

Aldi 40%

They cut the amount of oil in the product by over 20 percent. So what replaced the oil? Water! In fact, the primary ingredient in this margarine is now water, whereas previously it was oil.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Aldi margarine ingredients

We asked Aldi’s PR agency to explain why they literally watered down this product rather than raise the price, why they didn’t label the product as a new formulation, and whether they conducted any consumer taste tests to demonstrate that consumers preferred the new version. They declined to answer the questions.

Sadly, name brand tub “spreads” like Country Crock and Blue Bonnet are also only 39-40% oil these days. I don’t know about you, but MrConsumer just loves to spread emulsified water on his crisp English muffins.




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August 13, 2018

Tropicana Orange Juice Downsizes Again

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:30 am

Back in the good old days, one could buy half a gallon of Tropicana orange juice in a container. Then in 2010, the company (and the industry) downsized the traditional 64 ounce container to 59 ounces.

Tropicana 64-59
Tropicana 64-59 net contents

Then they introduced attractive carafes of orange juice in a shape not easily distinguishable as a particular size, but they were still 59 ounces.

Now in the summer of 2018, Tropicana, following the lead of Simply Orange, is in the process of downsizing again. This time to a mere 52 ounces.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Tropicana 59-52 ounces

The bottles look identical on store shelves. Same width, same height. So how did they reduce the contents by a full seven ounces so inconspicuously?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Tropicana bottles profile

The bottles aren’t as deep as they were… that’s how they accomplished this clever sleight-of-hand.

On the Tropicana website, they explain why they downsized the product:

Tropicana downsize explained

We consider this one of the sneakiest downsizes ever because of both the tiny net contents statement which is often hidden by the shelf rack edge in some supermarkets, and the appearance of the bottles which look identical head-on. What do you think? Add your comments below.

Thanks to eagle-eyed reader, Edward E., for catching the change.




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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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June 25, 2018

This is a Weight Loss Pill, Right?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:02 am

Last year, a consumer purchased a bottle of Garcinia Cambogia Extract from a Vitamin Shoppe location in California believing that this product could help her lose weight.

Vtiamin Shoppe

*MOUSE PRINT:

In much smaller print, the bottle was labeled “weight management” and “appetite control” leading her to believe this was just the type of product she was looking for. (The caret after those terms merely refers to the standard fine print disclosure on the back of the label that the FDA has not evaluated these claims.)

Apparently she did a little research after purchasing it and found a study or studies from which she concluded that this stuff had been “scientifically proven to be incapable of providing such weight-loss benefits.” So like any good consumer, rather than going back to the store to get a refund, she filed a class action lawsuit alleging misrepresentation and false advertising, among other claims.

To her surprise, the judge ruled against her, saying in his decision:

The first problem with Plaintiff’s complaint is her assertion that the phrases “Weight Management” and “Appetite Control” equate to representations that the Product provides weight-loss benefits. “Weight Management” suggests management or control of one’s weight, whose upward or downward departure may differ depending on an individual person’s goals, i.e., to gain, lose, or maintain one’s weight. “Appetite Control” indicates control of one’s appetite, which may or may not ultimately result in weight-loss. Thus, it is irrelevant whether the alleged studies disprove that the active ingredients in the Product can produce weight-loss benefits because the phrases themselves do not inherently promise weight-loss benefits.

Say what? If putting the terms “weight management” and “appetite control” on a pill bottle doesn’t suggest that the contents are good for losing weight, what do they suggest?




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June 11, 2018

Is This Stuff Really “Ice Cream?”

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:14 am

A new brand of “ice cream” called “Enlightened” has hit the market claiming only 60 – 100 calories per serving, with “more protein and less sugar.”

They picture 27 varieties of pints of ice cream in fancy flavors like this on their website:

Enlightened 4 pints

Each of the descriptions under those containers, and even the containers themselves call the product “ice cream.” And on individual product pages, the manufacturer repeatedly refers to the product simply as “ice cream.”

Red Velvet on web

Under federal law, a “standard of identity” defines when you can label a product as “ice cream”:

“Ice cream” is a frozen food made from a mixture of dairy products, containing at least 10 percent milkfat. It also cannot be aerated (“overrun”) by more than 100%. And a gallon must weigh at least 4.5 pounds. [language simplified]

Their nutrition label on the red velvet “ice cream” flavor, for example, reveals a fat content of only 2 grams in a 70 gram (half cup) serving:

nutrition label

So clearly, there is not at least 10% milkfat in this product, and therefore legally it cannot be simply labeled “ice cream.”

You can’t tell looking at the pictures of the pint containers on the website, but a visit to a grocer’s freezer case reveals a secret on the package.

*MOUSE PRINT:

fine print

At the very bottom of the container in the tiniest print, which many people might miss, it says “low fat ice cream.” And that is completely different from plain old “ice cream.”

Federal law requires conspicuous disclosure of the legal name of the product, the statement of identity:

…be presented in bold type on the principal display panel, shall be in a size reasonably related to the most prominent printed matter on such panel, and shall be in lines generally parallel to the base on which the package rests as it is designed to be displayed. 21 CFR 101.3

And under separate FDA rules, products can be labeled as lower in fat if they meet these requirements:

  • “Reduced fat” ice cream contains at least 25 percent less total fat than the referenced product (either an average of leading brands, or the company’s own brand).

  • “Light” or “lite” ice cream contains at least 50 percent less total fat or 33 percent fewer calories than the referenced product (the average of leading regional or national brands).

  • “Lowfat” ice cream contains a maximum of 3 grams of total fat per serving (½ cup).

  • “Nonfat” ice cream contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving.

  • Because this flavor of Enlightened has less than three grams of fat per serving, it can and must be labeled as “low fat ice cream” and not merely “ice cream.”

    We asked Enlightened how the company could refer to these products merely as “ice cream” under the standard of identity and it referred us to the above chart.

    Is the fine print disclosure they make on the container sufficient disclosure to purchasers? Are repeated references merely to “ice cream” in marketing materials and on the package misleading? We filed a complaint with the FDA asking them to look at this case, and we’ll report their findings (if any).

    We’re not alone in raising questions about these newfangled “ice creams.” A class action lawsuit was filed last month against Halo Top, the most famous of these new lower calorie brands, making similar allegations as we have about Enlightened. (Hat tip to TruthinAdvertising.org for this lawsuit.)




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