7 Ways The Food Companies Fool You

By Jim F

Most consumers take just 4 seconds to browse over food packaging before making a choice.

That’s the window of opportunity a manufacturer has to convince you to buy their product. Here’s how they do it:

  1. Put something wholesome and natural on the front
    Fresh fruit, lush meadows, and green trees.
    The Reality. That’s just a pretty picture – it might have nothing to do with what’s in the packet.
  2. Buzzword of the month
    At the moment it seems to be “whole grain” and “omega-3” and “fortified”. Any savvy marketer will make sure they list these buzzwords in bold: front and center.
    The Reality: The actual content of the whole grain may be minimal – and can you really believe that the possible health benefits of the latest buzzword will outweigh the other junk in the food?
  3. Big wrappers
    Looks like value for money yeah?
    The Reality: How many times have you ripped open a food wrapper only to find you’ve paid for about 1/3 air. Maybe manufacturers need to start listing the amount of “air” on the nutritional label.
  4. Keep changing the product design
    More colors, more funky-stylee designs – whatever it takes to make you think that the same old food has suddenly become altogether different.
    The Reality: Same food, different box.
  5. Ticks and bullet point lists
    Free from artificial flavors “TICK!” Free from preservatives “TICK!” Baked not Fried “TICK!”.
    The Reality: Who cares. The 3 main ingredients in this particular item (a cracker) are refined white flour, vegetable fat, and sugar (what is is about those three ingredients?)
  6. Bite-sized. Mini-sized. Snack-sized
    Many popular food items also have a mini-me version. Surely that’s got to be good for the waistline?
    The Reality: You probably end up eating twice or three times as much of the mini-versions – because – hey – they’re so small! and easy to eat!
  7. It’s organic
    It’s great to choose organic food over the non-organic counterpart – but organic candy? Or what about organic baked beans – complete with added sugar and 456mg of sodium.
    The Reality: 3,500 calories of organic food is still 3,500 calories.

21 Comments

  1. DietingDaisy

    I also wanted to point out, that I just mentioned the nutritional value of Special K because I like to get the proper nutrients I want. Cereals should have a good amount of fiber, otherwise it’s practically junk food. But, if you do not care too much about fiber intake, then Special K is not a bad choice in terms of flavor.

    Reply
  2. DietingDaisy

    I think food that claims to help you lose weight are the most annoying ones. Nothing helps you lose weight except surgery or exercise/diet. I love Special K Red Berries, but it annoys me so much that Special K itself, advertises itself as a diet food. Nutritionally speaking, NONE of the Special K cereals have fiber, protein, and from what I taste, it just tastes like rice krispies or sweetened corn flakes and a lot of the tastier versions like the yogurt one just has tons of sugar per 3/4 cup serving.

    What you have to do basically, is to replace your breakfast and lunch with a bowl of Special K and have a piece of fruit and a beverage. Although, a bowl of Special K red berries did keep me satisfied, I can gaurantee that this does not work for most people. Plus, 1 cup serving for breakfast and for lunch?! You’ll be starving and you won’t get the fiber, protein, and fullness you would want.

    And for the Special K plans, you have the recommended option to eat Special K snacks, which are quite expensive; the cheapest for the 90 calorie bars goes for 2 for $5. They are also very sweet for some people, and it has this very bad aftertaste, in my opinion. They are also very tiny, and you’d probably have to eat two of them to consider it a satisfying snack until your next meal.

    I think, generally, cereals made of rice are the least satisfying; they are too light. I have eaten Rice Chex, Rice Krispies, and Special K Original. They are all unsatisfying for me. People say they’re bland too, but that does not bother me. It is the fact that the recommended serving size for these cereals are just way too low to make it a decent meal. They also get soggy easily.

    Since I love this blog and read it often, I always leave my own experiences with dieting and food. I think certain foods that consider themselves diet foods are not special at all, and all it does it asks you to replace your meals with something low calorie; sometimes even small servings. And then, of course, you’ll magically drop pounds. But you can do this with practically any food that is nutritious and low in calories, and this is what most dieters do not know, and get mislead into buying these “weight loss” foods.

    Reply
  3. Herbal Remedies Girl

    Great List and all true! There are so many products out there that claim to be healthy based upon their description on the front of the box, but when you turn the box around and look at the ingredients it’s a whole other story!

    Reply
  4. Jordan

    Hi Matt, Just wanted to comment on your comment. Yes it can be better to get omega-3 from the diet for the reason being if you don’t know where the source is coming from in pill form and if you are not sure if it is tested for potency and purity then you are much better off eating a piece of wild Alaskan salmon. I worked for GNC for years and yes there are some brands out there you can definitely trust, just make sure that it states on the bottle where the cod liver oil or fish oil comes from, that it does not contain any PCB’s, and that it is checked for potency and purity.

    Reply
  5. ZayiflamaShop.com

    The one that really gets me riled is saying “0 Grams of Trans Fat per serving!” on the package, and on the ingredients list there is hydrogenated vegetable oil! I mean, do they really think we’re that stupid?

    Reply
  6. zay?flama

    You left off the thing that irks me the most–servings per package! I recently bought a protein soy smoothie drink that was obviously packaged as a single-serving drink in a small bottle. The front even said “with 19 grams of protein!” I looked at the calorie count and it seemed reasonable, so I bought it. Then I looked again and realized the protein count on the label said only “9 grams.” The nutritional information on the label was based on TWO servings!! Now I had to double that calorie count that seemed so reasonable…

    Reply
  7. The Baldchemist

    Don’t you have a consumer watchdog in The USA? Or are they paid by the producers?
    I totally agree wih your article; The problem as you so rightly pointed out is of course we don’t have time to read every thing we buy before we get home- and then we are too damm hungry and busy. Thanks for the reminder.
    The Baldchemist

    Reply
  8. Raebabe

    The one that really gets me riled is saying “0 Grams of Trans Fat per serving!” on the package, and on the ingredients list there is hydrogenated vegetable oil! I mean, do they really think we’re that stupid?

    Reply
  9. Rick

    You talk about healthy eating but promote advertisers like (thinin4)…. come on now !!!

    Reply
  10. brandon c

    @Matt
    Usually when a package states ‘omega3-inside’ or whatever it is artificially injected and not naturally occuring meaning that it is probably no better than a pill from GNC. You need to be more concerned about the quantity of omega in the product and the ratio of omega 6 to 3. I’m not sure about GNC or Vitabase omega products but I personally will only take pharmaceutical grade fish oil that contains at least 65% omega3 with a ratio of 2:1 epa to dha. Natural factors has a cheap and reliable product that you and everyone should check out. I only take one pill a day and notice increased mood stability and overall mental agility/performance.

    Reply
  11. Matt Beem

    Just curious about Omega-3. Is there any evidence it is better to get it in the diet than in pills like GNC or Vitabase sells?

    Reply
  12. Michelle

    Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said:
    I checked the package each bottle was 1.4 servings or something ludicrous.[…]

    This is another thing that makes me nuts, you buy things that contain something stupid like 1.8 servings. Who the heck would take the time to measure out .8 portion? This use of fractions of portions just proves that those marketing the product are trying to “hide” the calories/sugars/etc in their products.

    Reply
  13. Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being

    I agree with the serving size comment from Marydaz. I’ve bought bottled drinks that you would definitely eat in a single serving but when I checked the package each bottle was 1.4 servings or something ludicrous.

    As for the rest of the bogus claims of 99% fat free (on lollies = 90% sugar), or the all natural confectionery company (what’s natural about refined sugar?) don’t get me started

    Reply
  14. Spectra

    I usually stick with fresh fruits and veggies and other minimally processed things at the store. The packaging is basically just a clear baggie so I can see what I’m buying. I don’t like being tricked, so I scrutinize labels very carefully when I shop.

    Right now, the big buzzword is “Trans Fat Free”. Our food science journal even says that if that’s written on your package, your sales of that product are probably going to increase by a lot.

    Reply
  15. Weight Master

    Let’s face it. Corporate America is out to get you. They play with the serving sizes to make things look more nutritional. They hide ingredients in long chemical names that nobody knows what they mean. They package in larger packages to make you think you are getting more. It is just how it works. You just have to be careful and really consider what you buy.

    Reply
  16. jj

    I probably spend about 10 seconds, the amount of time to pick up the product and quickly scan the nutritional information for what I’m looking for. Some of those items may make it more likely that I pick up a product, but I don’t actually buy ANYTHING until I check out the stats.

    Reply
  17. Jen

    Jason said:
    On point #3: They do list the weight on the package and 10 oz of chips is 10 oz of chips, remember air is weightless! Believe me, they would rather sell you a higher percentage of chips than air if they could, the higher volume of the package increases shipping costs. Usually that “air” is there for a reason. […]

    Don’t fool yourself. Bigger packages are simply a marketing gimmick. America has a “Bigger is Better” mentality, and it’s proven that people will be more likely to buy something if they think they’re getting a deal. That’s why super-sizing was so popular. Your average consumer not does not pay any attention to the listed weight on packages. That’s whay it’s in such small print at the bottom of the package.

    Reply
  18. marydaz

    You left off the thing that irks me the most–servings per package! I recently bought a protein soy smoothie drink that was obviously packaged as a single-serving drink in a small bottle. The front even said “with 19 grams of protein!” I looked at the calorie count and it seemed reasonable, so I bought it. Then I looked again and realized the protein count on the label said only “9 grams.” The nutritional information on the label was based on TWO servings!! Now I had to double that calorie count that seemed so reasonable…

    Reply
  19. Jason

    On point #3: They do list the weight on the package and 10 oz of chips is 10 oz of chips, remember air is weightless! Believe me, they would rather sell you a higher percentage of chips than air if they could, the higher volume of the package increases shipping costs. Usually that “air” is there for a reason.

    Reply
  20. Jan

    Janice, you are right. When you buy vegetables and fruit and other stuff like that, staples, there is no need to look at the packaging, so the less you buy processed food, the less time you’ll spend shopping.

    Reply
  21. Janice

    This is a problem with our busy lives. I can’t remember how many times I’ve come home with yogurt or something from the store and not even noticed that the sell-by date won’t allow me time to use all the items in the pack.

    Nowadays I judge my shopping by how few products I have in my basket that a chef wouldn’t use in recipes – the more basic the food the better – no additives and and very little packaging to read.

    Janice

    Reply