A Lesson in Marketing: Special K “Real Butter Taste!” Popcorn Chips

Special K, the brand identified most with cereal for women on a diet, has long ago expanded into additional realms of processed food. We recently noticed a popcorn chip product from Special K right by the checkout counter. The “Real Butter Taste” message caught our eye.

Notice how “Real Butter” is colored more brightly than the word “Taste”. Does the word “taste” change the meaning of the phrase?

Well, in a shopper’s mind, butter is equated with quality flavor, but also with excess calories from fat. People want a tasty snack, but not the guilt.

That’s why the front of the pack proudly boasts that a serving of 28 chips is only 120 calories. Not bad.

So where does the real butter taste come from?

Here is the product ingredient list:

Milled corn, vegetable oil (canola oil with TBHQ for freshness, palm oil, sunflower oil), contains 2% or less of salt, natural and artificial flavor, corn germ, dextrose, nonfat milk, maltodextrin, butter (cream, salt), annatto extract for color, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate

Obviously the first ingredient is corn. Were you making this at home, the second ingredient would have been butter. But here, canola oil is used. Canola is usually GMO (unless explicitly stated otherwise. The oil is also treated with TBHQ -  (tertiary butylhydroquinone) – an antioxidant that keeps it from going rancid. It is a petroleum derivative. Yum.

The food industry pushed the FDA for years to get TBHQ approved as a preservative despite the fact that ingestion of large doses (a thirtieth of an ounce) can cause nausea, delirium, and ringing of the ears. The FDA acquiesced, but demanded that TBHQ not exceed 0.02% of the oil and fat content in a food.

Next up in the ingredient list is salt. Then, flavors, both natural and artificial. This is where the majority of the butter taste comes from.

Five ingredients further down the list, we also find real butter listed. Most likely a tenth of a teaspoon’s worth, because there is significantly less butter here than salt! (Remember: items in the ingredient list are ordered based on the amount used in the product).

Last on the list are disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate – additives that impart an umami flavor to foods and get us hooked.

Our conclusions:

  • Real popcorn is better than popcorn chips. It has less ingredients, because there is no need to glue the corn pieces together with ingredients such as maltodextrin to make a chip.
  • Stay away from products with TBHQ.
  • Real Butter Flavor is not the same as real butter. Go for the real thing, in small quantities.

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  • Mike Benninger

    Why aren’t the dairy folks losing their minds when fake foods like this are selling?? Isn’t butter a real ingredient that used responsibly has no health side effects ? Perhaps we should be sending info to other groups to help fight fake food too??

  • brikl

    Sorry to be rude, but it’s “fewer” ingredients, not “lesser” ingredients. Thanks for all the info, btw.