Friday, September 10, 2010

Unnatural Maple Syrup

Log Cabin All Natural syrup bottle and close up of the ingredients list
Log Cabin's new "All Natural" syrup product is pretty clever, and intentionally deceptive, in my opinion.

It never even says "maple" on the front of it, but its packaging design implies it's pure maple syrup because real maple syrup producers in Canada, Vermont, and other northern states all use this type of bottle. In contrast, regular Log Cabin, Aunt Jemima and the other imitation brands all use clear, vertical bottles.

At less than half the price of the real stuff, you can be sure Log Cabin Natural's not pure maple. In fact, it has only 4 percent maple syrup in it. The rest is "all natural" rice, sugar, caramel coloring, and the thickening agent xanthum gum.

But people won't fall for this right? Wrong. A quick check of product review blogs turned up several folks talking about how natural and maple-y it was:

  • From Just Call Me Chaviva: "I don't think I'll be eating the Log Cabin Maple Syrup every day at breakfast, but I will tell you this: It tastes amazing. I think I forgot what real maple syrup tastes like, I haven't eaten it in so long. It's sweet and creamy and absolutely tasty. Log Cabin has been making syrup for 120 years, so it makes sense that they know exactly what they're doing!"
  • From Serendipity Mommy: After repeating a Log Cabin press release verbatim, she writes: "We actually live in a town that has a Maple Syrup festival because that is what its known for. And the bottles they sell the pure stuff in around here look just like this one!"
  • From Mommies with Cents: "Not only was it delicious but I felt good about it’s ingredients, or rather lack there of. Log Cabin’s new All Natural syrup, contains no high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, artificial colors or flavors. Just sweet natural sugar and maple syrup- Yum! Also, Log Cabin All Natural Syrup is gluten free if that is something you are looking for."
(The fact that it's gluten-free is one of those absurd fact decoys -- all maple syrup is gluten-free, so that doesn't differentiate this product at all.)

To any reasonable person, it's clear this product has been intentionally designed to impinge on the market for pure maple syrup by undercutting it on price while using cheaper ingredients. Despite this fact, I predict it will continue to be sold as is. The best the pure maple syrup folks can do is educate the public, and Googling this topic does reveal a whole lot of stories titled "Log Cabin All Natural Syrup not the real deal" -- so I guess they've been doing a good job so far.

There are two reasons Log Cabin will not have to change its product packaging or name:

First, the words "natural" or "all natural" are completely unregulated. Anyone can put them on anything. Just because consumers seem to think they mean something, doesn't mean they actually do or that the government cares enough to get involved. If you know anything about the huge process involved in creating and maintaining the USDA organic standard, you know what I mean. (I'm not even sure the phrase "pure maple syrup" is protected, but perhaps it doesn't need regulation since it would be hard to go into a court and defend that usage on a product like this.)

Second, the package shape is not protected in any way. Its use by pure maple sugar producers is merely a long-standing trade practice, and I'm actually a bit surprised Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima hasn't encroached on it before now. It was a little piece of consumer mind share just waiting to be exploited by Big Processed Food.

I first heard about the product in an AP story in the Pioneer Press today, but since the PiPress only leaves its stories up for a month, here's the AP story on another site, plus a second story to check out along similar lines.

1 comment:

Chaviva said...

I know, I know ... they sent me the product for free, so I had to make it sound delectable. My focus of "negativity" was on the calories and sugar, not the fact that it isn't COMPLETELY natural. My bad. Thanks for revealing the facts, tho!