July 24, 2008
Sara Lee Forced to Embrace (Overly?) Accurate Food Naming and Branding
Sara Lee's recent problems with its Soft and Smooth labeling issues speak to an interesting dilemma: when does labeling cross into the realm of naming?
It has come out that Sara Lee cannot claim that the product contains "whole grain goodness" because the bread is made up primarily of white flour: it is only 30% "whole grain," a fact that now must be made clear on its packaging. Additionally, "As part of the agreement, Sara Lee will add copy to the label stating that two slices have 10 grams of whole grain and that (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) recommends consumption of 48 grams of whole grains daily."
This has set off a bit of derision on the blogosphere, with one group suggesting that this stuff is really "White Bread For People Who Hate Whole Wheat Bread And Like Lying To Themselves That White Bread Is Healthy."
It's one thing when a candy bar company, for instance, tries to get you to eat more chocolate for the good of your heart, it's quite another when you think that your purchase is either good for you or for the environment.
And food labels are notorious for being tricky to read and have traditionally been rather far reaching with their claims. Items like Fiber One Chewy Bars and Nabisco Fig Newtons 100% Whole Grain Cookies (there's that pesky whole grain thing again) have raised the ire of various consumer groups.
Cereals aimed at kids often claim to be "low fat" or "low sugar" while even "whole grain" cereals slip in sugar, salt and fat.
Responsible product naming should also be accurate product naming. And yet, is Sara Lee really that far off the mark in saying that their bread contains "whole grain goodness," a tagline that seems rather unimaginative but serviceable?
Or is the problem here the word whole? Like it or not, the bread does indeed contain "whole grain goodness" but is NOT made wholly of "grain goodness."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) wanted to forbid the company from using these phrases: "made with whole grain," "good source of whole grain" and "now with 25 percent more whole grain," all of which do not seem overly misleading. We are, after all, talking about white bread.
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