Sunday, 30 November 2008

The (Un)Natural Confectionary Company: Schoolyard Logic Strikes Again

When I was at school it was common to reply to an insult by highlighting that I (the insultee) did not share some unpleasant characteristic with the insulter. For example:

Insulter: You've got stupid shoes! Stupid shoes, stupid shoes, stupid shoes.....

Insultee: Yeah, well at least I don't have a girl's haircut.

Victory was typically judged by an ad hoc jury of peers (whoever happened to be standing around) by subjective analysis of the comparative seriousness of the two accusations, and the extent to which each was justified.

Of course it was also about the delivery - the insultee may have had stupid shoes, but did it look like he cared? Did the girlie-haired insulter smart from the riposte? And what was the relative social standing of the verbal duellers? If Silly Shoes was more popular then his shoes could be pretty silly before accusations of feminine coiffure could sway the onlookers.

Where am I going with this? Well, lately I have become increasingly irritated by a marketing tactic employed by food manufacturers that reminds me of this childish logic.

A friend has just sent me a bag of sweets/candy manufactured by The Natural Confectionery Company. On the front of the packet it proudly trumpets no artificial colours and no artificial flavours. To me this employs tha same absurd rationale - replying to an insult with a proclamation about some other flaw one does not have. When you consider the vast array of ways in which a food can be unhealthy and damaging, these statements just look like childish replies to some unspecified rival (who does include those ingredients in their own products) in order to convince the jury (we, the consumers) to buy their product:

Yeah, but at least we don't have artificial colours and flavours

What no one in our playground ever did was to say to a couple of insult-trading kids:

You know what? You do have stupid shoes - but the fact that you do not have a girl's haircut in no way justifies your shoe selection. You need to talk to your parents. Grow a pair and exercise your right to choose shoes you want instead of those your mother thinks look nice. And as for you - ditto with the hair. If you instructed the hairdresser then shame on you - otherwise, you should also grow a pair and make your own decisions. Your non-stupid shoes simply do not mitigate this character flaw.

It certainly would have been refreshing - as you know, I'm a big fan of tough love.

So to get to the point, The Natural Confectionery Company is patently failing to adhere to the spirit of the UK FSA guidelines on what constitutes natural ingredients. Their website conveniently does not list the ingredients but I can tell you from the packet I have in front of me that the top ingredients for 'Jelly Squirms' are sugar, glucose syrup and modified wheat starch. Just the sort of things you find lying around the forest floor every day.

I explained all this to the Eat Natural company in Eat Natural? Not According to the Food Standards Agency. First, that sugar is not natural and second, that their weasel tactics of
avoiding a direct breach of the guidelines by giving their company a name containing the word 'Natural' rather than using it in product names, simply won't wash.

I will contact the Natural Confectionery Company and make them aware of this post. Their contact form is easy to fill out, so feel free to do the same.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be putting together a roll call of shame to highlight the increasing number of companies who fail to have the courtesy to respond, including their contact details, so that others can contact them. This will let them know that more people than just one crazy blogger disapprove of what they do.

See Also:

Eat Natural? Not According to the Food Standards Agency
Tough Love - Reasons not to Quit You don't Normally Hear


Anna said...

I would put just as much blame on consumers who clearly lack critical thinking skills. They are sheeple, unable to deflect the marketing decoys and see for themselves that the product is pure garbage and completely unnatural.

My 10 year old can see the false logic in quite a few advertisements and marketing claims, but because the adults who buy these things really want to believe that the products are not harmful, they fail to put on their "thinking caps".

Caveat emptor - Latin for "let the buyer beware". One would do much better to stick to foods that come with little or no packaging - far fewer marketing message decoys.

Kat Eden said...

It's amazing how even the smartest people can be tricked by hype and marketing in a moment of weakness. Despite the fact that I definitely know better and am fully aware of the rubbish that goes into this and other so-called natural foods, I'll admit I've bought Natural Company Snakes to take to the movies.

There's just something about the words and the way the packet looks that makes you think 'oh it must be at least a little better than the other stuff'. Yet I tell my clients to avoid any processed foods!

I guess the lesson is not that we should never eat 'junk' but that we should be very aware of how much control these companies have over us. If I'm being partially duped, and I'm a fitness/health professional, then imagine what those who really do have no clue think. Let alone their kids ..

Mini said...

It was me who sent this item and I have to say was somewhat dismayed when I saw this product in the Coop. I was especially disappointed because I thought of all the Supermarkets the Coop was one that had a conscience, and tried to be ethical in their trading. I guess it's OK to make sure the African farmer gets a bit more money for his chocolate while at the same time they peddle these high sugar foods to their customers giving them the 'choices' that they desire. Unfortunately as we know long and sustained diets high in sugar are bad for people and when is a major supermarket going to take a stand on this? There is a long way to go, they all quite happily sell tobacco in order to boost their profits so what chance is there with high sugar foods?

Anna said...

But when one talks to ordinary people, they generally don't see their own sugar consumption in a bad light. It's always someone else who overindulges in sugars, not them. They've swallowed the myth that we "need" to consume some sugars for proper function (can can get all we need from a few non-starchy veggie or by converting protein to glucose). And many have heard that "sweet" is the taste we are born with, so that further justifies eating sugars and candies.

In the end, so many people fall back on that tired phrase, "everything in moderation". I want to scream when I hear it, because there is nothing moderate in the way sugar is consumed by most people in industrial societies. But since most don't know the history of sugar consumption by humans; they don't know that the body works hard to maintain only about 1 teaspoon's worth of glucose in the blood at any given time; and they don't know the average intake (in the US, I suspect it is similar in the UK) is over 150 pounds per capita per year (because they don't know how much sugar there really is in their food), then they don't know that "moderate" is anything but.

I don't think we can rely on businesses to sell only "good" or bad" foods; that "value" judgement is on the consumer's shoulders, not business. My local "natural" food store won't sell lard because they think it is bad, but I'd like them to carry it because (if from properly raise pigs and not adulterated) I think it's good, wholesome, and a traditional fat. We get into too many problems of who is doing the deciding for us if we rely on/allow others to determine what we have access to or not. So if we want access to the good stuff then we have to tolerate seeing the bad foods. But one needs to be informed - Caveat Emptor.

If no one bought those candies (or whatever), they wouldn't be reordered and restocked. We have powerful choices when we "vote" with our money. No one forces us to buy candy and eat it. But if we let someone else make the decisions of what is available, then we might not have access to what we want.

Son of Grok said...

I would disagree to an extent. We are not really raised to be careful about what is in our food. That is what the government does right? Protects us from bad food so we don't have to.
We all know how effective that system is.
I was raised this way though and honestly didn't even know better to look at the ingredients of my foods until my eyes were opened when I went Primal.
While I completely agree and see the buyer beware logic, at the same time I think that people really just don't know any better as this is the way it has been "bread" (heehee) into us.

The SoG

Methuselah said...

I tend to agree with SOG on this one - what worries me about placing too much of the responsibility for this on the shoulders of the consumer is that it will simply take too long for change to take place and in the meantime our medical systems groan under the pressure of treating all the people too ill-informed to do the right thing for their health.

Clearly there are plenty of better-informed people like us who can make a difference by voting with our wallets, but since we are in the minority I would like to hope that we can also exert pressure on organisations like governement and regulators so that they can force businesses to do the right thing. A good start would be to force them to play by the rules and not use confusing tactics, as in this case - it just makes it even harder for consumers to make the right choices and therefore change even slower.

That said, there is a bit of me that shares your frustration with the average consumer, Anna. I want to just say "Come on - THINK!"

Likewise, Mini, I also feel we should be able to rely on certain companies like Co-op to set an example and when they fail to do so it is a harsh reminder that the bottom line trumps all other considerations.

I went into more detail about the ways I think we can make a difference to what companies do here - including a nice diagram done in PowerPoint!

My Year Without said...

In addition to all of the great "arguments" I've just read, I'd like to add my two bits about how to get the government/lawmakers to act with more integrity and also how to inform the general public at the same time. Ready for this crazy idea?

I think that foods that are linked to disease (especially sugar because it is devoid of ANYTHING we need, and a pretty obvious culprit for many diseases) ought to be taxed. That would say a lot about the product and generate a percentage of money for the medical systems who have all of this "food-related disease" on their hands.

The idea is far-fetched, but I agree that something has to be done! Who knows what kinds of unhealthy-indulgences-taxes we will have in 20 years. Or perhaps there will be a "WARNING: Potentially Hazardous to Your Health! This product has been linked to heart disease, obesity and diabetes" label on the packaging. Unfortunately, there are and probably always will be people who need their hand held during this process.

Methuselah said...

Year Without - great idea - much like we do with tobacco, although as Mini points out, when you actually look at where we are with tobacco it can be quite depressing as a benchmark for where we might be 50 years from now on junk food (i.e. still on sale and widely used.)

Asclepius said...

Good to read so many excellent which I'd like to add my own voice.

There a several problems here - not least that of consumers trust.

1) Joe Public trust their governments - no matter what people and particularly the conspiracy theorists say. Here in the UK there is trust in the Department of Health to 'do the right thing'.

2) There is trust in the Medical establishment and trust in almost anyone in a white coat calling themselves 'doctor'. Forget MMR vaccine scares, people trust their doctor. When people are ill, they trust their doctor moreso.

3) There is trust in science. Forget 'Frankenstein foods', GM and BSE. The fact that someone wears glasses and has a white coat means that they are smart and know what is best for us.

4) There is a trust in business - particularly in certain brands. Marks & Spencer - recently tackled by Methuselah) are highly a trusted retailer.

5) Media opinion is trusted! No matter what you hear, most punters our there will be exposed to science and health issues from low quality rags.

So we trust the government, who often lack agility to respond to science and research. We trust the medical establishment. But what hope have doctors in keeping up with the latest medical research, especially while they are bing schmoozed by pharma? We tust business - yeah we know they have to make money, but "they wouldn't sell us anything bad would they - I mean surely the government would make that illegal?". There is the idea that science deals in facts - little thought is given to the murky funding behind most research, and less thought is given by the public to how that resulting research in managed and fed to us. Finally there is the media. A scare story like MMR will terrify parents and shift oodles of can join the dots yourself on this one....!

So most institutions that we SHOULD be able to trust are either inflexible or have an agenda beyond our health - meaning it is easy to 'pollute' health and nutrition advice with bad advice. The bad advice is hard to eradicate.

In this environment, we - the PALEO CROWD, now look like cranks and conspiracy theorists! Where should people look for advice? People want to be protected from themselves and guided. Most people trust that this will happen - but it obviously is not the case.

Even though I am now 'paleo' and totally convinced of its benefits, I recall the butterflies I felt in my stomach when just over two years ago, I let go of all I believed about health and nutrition, and sank in to a plate of lamb chops after 10 yeras as a vegetarian.

Methuselah said...

Asclepius - good comment - that really puts it into perspective. I'd like to think that we cranks have a fighting chance of spreading the word sufficiently, given time, to make a dent in the misinformation. All these government officials are real people. I have friends who are doctors and civil servants and have bought into this. I have persuaded 5 people to go paleo of whom I would say 2 are likely to persuade others close to them. Organisations have a habit of changing their mind in response to popular opinion rather than the facts, for fear of becoming irrelevant or marginalised, so perhaps ironically this might end up being the catalyst of change.

Anonymous said...

What can I say. These sweets are awesome.

Just a thought but it might save you some effort - you don't really need a name and shame campaigne if you are letting people decide for themselves do you.

Enjoy the sweets or not I say. I don't blame the company for anything. They sell a product. We as consumers decide whether we want to purchase it or not. In this case I guess you won't. I will continue too.

Bring on the trumpets.

Methuselah said...

Anon - is your decision influenced by the fact that they are being sold as 'natural'?

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