Are All Marketers Liars? [Inside the Label: Quaker Yogurt Granola Bars]

quaker yogurt granola barThis is a guest blog post by Bruce Bradley and was originally posted here.

In his 2005 bestseller Seth Godin proclaimed All Marketers Are Liars. It didn’t take long for Mr. Godin to admit that he was lying:

I wasn’t being completely truthful with you when I named this book. Marketers aren’t liars. They are just storytellers…

At the time Mr. Godin’s book was released, I was working in the heart of Big Food launching a new “yogurt”-coated cereal. I didn’t feel like I was lying—maybe pushing boundaries, but definitely not lying.

Recently I was reminded of those days while watching this ad for Quaker’s new Yogurt Granola Bars:

Did you catch Quaker’s claims and tagline? Here are the highlights:

    • “They’re whole grain good, and yummy good.”
    • Real fruit pieces
    • 12g of whole grains
    • Creamy yogurt coating
    • Tagline: “Treat Yourself Good”

So what do you think? Is Quaker lying? Well, while selling all the wonderful taste and whole grain aspects of their new yogurt granola bar, they’re definitely leanwashing some very unhealthy details from the ingredient label:

    • 11 g of sugar from a vast variety of sources. If all these sugars were listed together on the ingredient label, I suspect “sugars” might be the first ingredient for these bars.
    • A yogurt coating that is yogurt in name only. These coatings use highly processed, shelf-stable dairy ingredients (most likely from cows treated with growth hormones) and flavors to imitate the taste of yogurt. The truth is, these coatings are all sugar and fat, and have no active cultures and none of the probiotic benefits of yogurt.
    • 4.5g of fat of which 2.5g are saturated fats
    • GMOs from genetically modified soy, corn, and sugar
    • Preservatives (BHT) and artificial colors
    • Palm kernel and palm oils which are often harvested unsustainably, resulting in deforestation and reduction of critical habitats

So what’s so good about Quaker’s Yogurt Granola bars? Well, there are 12g of whole grain, but is that enough to make a food item good for you? Even Lucky Charms Treats have whole grains, but are they healthy? In fact, guess what? In a side-by-side comparison with Lucky Charms Treats, the venerable Quaker man comes up short vs. the little leprechaun:

So what’s with all the marketing madness of whole grains? Just because whole grains are healthy, doesn’t mean foods that contain whole grains are always good for you. As I pointed out in a recent interview:

…if I make a cake out of whole grain flour, it’s still a cake. It may be a little bit better for me than a regular cake, but it’s still cake.

All this whole-grain nonsense is reminiscent of the rationale behind the FDA’s “jelly bean rule”—a 1994 provision enacted to stop food companies from making erroneous health claims. When the contents of snack bars, cereals, and cookies are 30-50% sugar, but they still flaunt “whole grains” as a means to claim a healthier status in the minds of consumers, it’s very misleading. Don’t believe me? Then stay tuned for my next couple of posts where I’ll expose more of Quaker’s whole grain deception.

So is Seth Godin right? Are All Marketers Liars? I don’t think so, but unfortunately most of Big Food’s “storytelling” is far from the truth. So, I’m trying to change the conversation about food by blogging about the tricks, traps, and tools Big Food uses to get people eating more processed food. I’m also hopeful that my novel, Fat Profits, will get more and more people asking the crucial question, “Do I really know what’s in my food?”

Bruce BradleyBruce Bradley worked for over fifteen years as a food marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. In 2008 Bruce left the corporate world and started his own consulting business.  In his free time he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream, and his first novel, FAT PROFITS, is the result. Bruce writes about the food industry on his blog.

  • Cate

    Leanwashing? Pushing boundaries? Sorry, but lying is lying. I think this is just an indication of how low our standards of character have come. Everything can be justified in your own mind but if you aren’t willing to state the absolute truth about your product (like lots – note I didn’t say ALL for those of you itching to respond – of manufacturers of organic produce manage to do) then you are lying to justify selling it and making money. Pure and simple. Make money doing something more honorable than making people sick with stuff that passes itself off as food.

  • James Cooper

    Gmo sugar is a meaningless concept. Sugar is sugar. It’s a pure compound no matter wher you get it. And there is no evidence that any GMO crops are harmful.

    • Bianca

      Sugar derived from GMO crops would be GMO sugar. Pesticides and herbicides kill living things – insects and pests that see crops as a food source. Genetically modifying crops that in theory were supposed to increase yield and reduce the use of spraying these crops with pesticides and herbicides has not proven to be effective. These crops are now showing smaller yields and requiring additional pesticide and herbicide use. Additional use – because the genetic modification was to make the pesticide/ herbicide part of the plant itself… Which would then in theory eliminate the need for spraying. That means the plant cell structure now is contains a pesticide/ herbicide that cannot be simply washed off.. As pesticides and herbicides kill living organisms that feed off of them…. Not sure I would be so quick to state or believe there is no evidence that GMO crops are harmful for human or for that matter animal (chicken, cow, pig etc), consumption.

  • carol

    The comparison of the two bars doesn’t mean much if they are different weights, which I’m guessing they are (the Quaker bar is probably bigger, hence higher in calories); plus, the Lucky Charms bar is actually higher in sugar (as a percentage of total calories).

  • Wholesome Hedonist

    As a former Big Food Marketer myself, I applaud that you are blazing the trail, Bruce. This one is eye-opening!

    • Give Us REAL Food!!!

      Here here… these food brands need to be SHUT DOWN!!! Congratulations Wholesome Hedonist for joining the ranks of the reformed… now how do we get your former colleagues to wake-up-and-smell-the-organic-fair-trade coffee? At the end of the day, as Fooducate has been investigating for several months now, food manufacturers and restaurant chains are “spinning” their tails off every chance they get.

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  • Saty13

    The comparison of one “bar” vs. another “bar” is totally misleading. Do the comparison showing nutritional content per 4 ounces of each, or per 150 calories of each. I’m not going to penalize one product just because they make a bigger bar. With the data you presented, I have to assume the Quaker product is 50% bigger, or more filling or whatever. If that’s the case, then Quaker comes out looking better than the Lucky Charms on sugar and sodium and equal on fat content. (Of course, comparing it to Lucky Charms is setting a very low bar!)

    If you don’t know how to analyze and present data, then don’t write about it.