[Update: see Ocean Spray's response in the comments below.]
More Cranberry news today.
Here’s a dilemma for you. Let’s say you are the CEO of a successful food company that sells products both to consumers and to other food processors. And let’s assume you are being squeezed by your big corporate clients to lower the price of your product. What do you do? Do you stand by the quality of your product and take a hit on the bottom line? Or do you get the food scientists to whip up a cheaper, inferior version?
This is the story of sweetened dried cranberries (SDC), manufactured by Ocean Spray. The consumer product, Craisins, contains dried cranberries, sugar (lots), and sometimes a bit of oil. That’s the package we buy at the supermarket. However, when we buy products with cranberry, such as Nature Valley Fruit Bars and Pepperidge Farm Chewy Granola Cookies, the cranberries inside are different. They come from a new product by Ocean Spray, called “Choice”.
What you need to know:
The “Choice” product has 50% less cranberry (the expensive ingredient) and more of other stuff: sugar, edelberry juice, citric acid. Some say, it barely has any cranberry left.
Here’s what The National Consumers League (NCL), a watchdog organization, wrote to the FDA:
…the cranberry content is so small that Ocean Spray must add color in the form of elderberry juice concentrate and acidity in the form of citric acid to simulate the color and acidity of cranberries. These findings are consistent with Ocean Spray’s own claims that it uses 50 percent fewer cranberries to make “Choice” than the regular product. Ocean Spray’s marketing materials tout “Choice” as a low-cost SDC with the same taste, texture, appearance, and health benefits as other SDCs.
NCL argues that such products should not be called cranberries, because they barely contain any of the original fruit. After sending the “Choice” product to a lab, they also ask that the ingredient label (on bulk packages, we assume) be corrected to state sugar as the first ingredient, not cranberries.
If you’re wondering why some products are full of all strange sounding names and chemicals, this story exemplifies one of the many reasons – manufacturer cost reduction.
Two other well known examples are the use of high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar in soft drinks (HFCS is half the price of table sugar) and the invention of margarine as a low cost alternative to butter (at the behest of France’s Napoleon two hundred years ago).
What to do at the supermarket:
Go for products with ingredient lists that have real, understandable names. Not always the healthiest (i.e too much butter), but at least you know what you are putting in your mouth.
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