Guess The Food #5: Marketing Gimmicks

Sometimes the marketing that companies use to sell products, especially when it comes to food, just makes me steam. Today’s Guess The Food is chalk-full of random marketing gimmicks that are supposed to lure you into purchasing the product.

I really like this Guess the Food mainly because it’s not some super-extravagent thing. It’s an everyday product that’s probably in millions of homes. It’s also not necessarily terrible for you, but it’s not as good for you as you might think.

As with anything, the real purpose of these posts isn’t to vilify any one company but just try to convince people to get in the habit of checking labels and reading ingredients.

Let’s dive in and see what we can find out!

The Marketing Red Tape

This product has three selling points listed in bright red tape along the back of the label. See?

You’re supposed to notice these benefits and BUY BUY BUY. Let’s talk about each one specifically:

Good Source of Omega 3 ALAOmega 3 fatty acid is an essential nutrient for humans and we can’t make it on our own so we have to rely on food to get it. The acceptable intake per day for males is 1.6g/day and for females it’s 1.1g/day. One serving of this product provides 18% of that. I guess that’s good.

Here’s the thing though. This fatty acid is in a huge amount of food. Most meats, nuts, fish, and seeds (like flax) are full of this stuff. One 3-ounce serving of salmon and you’re good for the day. If you’re eating a varied diet, you’re probably getting more than enough of this anyway so this shouldn’t really be a selling point.

No High Fructose Corn Syrup – Well, that’s good! Just because a product doesn’t have one thing in it doesn’t mean that it’s therefore good for you. If it said “No Anthrax!” in big bold letters would that make you want to buy it or not?

Delicious Taste with 33% Less SodiumLess sodium than what? This is a pretty meaningless claim unless you know how much sodium the stuff used to have in it which you can find out if you read the small print. The product used to 510 g sodium per serving and now it’s 340 g. So they reduced it from A LOT to a lot. Good but not great.

So these are maybe all good things, but it’s hard to tell in a bubble. Let’s dive in to some of the other nutritional ingredients and see what we’re getting along with these 3 selling points.

The Facts.

Well, 2 Tablespoons per serving is not a lot. Most of the calories are from fat also. In fact, along with that 18% of your daily Omega 3, you’ll get 11% of your daily fat intake and 14% of your daily sodium intake. These aren’t terrible values (I’ve seen worse), but they do seem slightly high.

There’s no Cholesterol in this but there’s no Protein either. The only other thing of note in this product is 4 grams of sugar, which for 2 Tablespoons of product, is kind of a lot. You don’t need to use High Fructose Corn Syrup to make something sweet!

The Ingredients.

Let’s find out what’s in this mystery product now. We know we won’t find any HFCS, but there’s plenty to investigate here.

Water – The first ingredient is water. So this is probably a liquid. I’m surprised they don’t market this (Now with 33% more Water!)

Soybean and Canola Oils – Both of these are pretty standard oils. Both of these oils are packed with Omega 3 ALA so this is where that claim is coming from. Given that these are incredibly popular oils, your body is probably getting plenty of ALA without this product.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with these oils in moderate amounts. I just found it funny that they figured out a way to put such a crazy spin on the fact that their product has canola oil in it.

Distilled Vinegar – Sweet. Good old vinegar. The fact that it’s distilled just means that it’s colorless. Also known as white vinegar.

Sugar – No High Fructose Corn Syrup of course, but this stuff is still pretty packed with sugar.

Salt – Even with 33% less sodium, salt is still a top 5 ingredient.

Dehydrated Garlic, Onions, Red Bell Peppers – Some basic flavorful veggies that have been dehydrated and added to the mix.

Maltodextrin (Corn)I like that they put corn in parenthesis. It’s made from corn, but it’s definitely not corn. It’s a pretty common food additive though and acts as a mild sweetener.

Xanthan Gum A very common thickening agent. Interesting Factoid: Besides it’s use in food, it’s also used in underwater cement and to thicken drilling mud for oil wells.

Spices – Who knows what these could be. I’m surprised that there isn’t a sticker on the bottle that says, “Now with more MYSTERY SPICE!”

Autolyzed Yeast Extract – Also known as dead yeast. It gives food a very savory flavor. It’s commonly marketed as Vegemite!

Calcium Disodium EDTA (Used to Protect Quality) – Another marketing gem. It’s basically a preservative. From The Oregon State Website:

“May cause intestinal upsets, muscle cramps, kidney damage, and blood in urine. On the FDA priority list of food additives to be studied for mutagenic, teratogenic, subsacute, and reproductive effects.”

NIH released a final study of the additive in 2002 that seems to suggest it’s safe for consumption (obviously because it’s still allowed in foods) but can have some unexpected side-effects in relatively large doses (you would have to drink bottles of this product and then you would have other problems).

Natural Flavor – Whatever.

Lemon Juice Concentrate – Pretty straightforward.

Caramel Color – It makes things tan.

Annatto Extract – A natural coloring that gives food a yellowish orange hue.

Any Guesses? So that’s it. Anybody have any guesses on what this product could be? What do you think of their marketing efforts? Successful? Do you have a sudden urge to increase your intake of Omega 3 ALA?

17 comments on “Guess The Food #5: Marketing Gimmicks

  1. Based on those ingredients, I am going to guess that this is an Italian dressing, maybe Zesty Italian with those veggies added.

  2. I will go one step further, and guess that it is a low-fat version of zesty italian dressing. I laugh at the marketing of Omega-3 fatty acids (Actually, they are talking about α-linolenic acid – which might turn into an Omega 3 fatty acid), and the No HFCS. Unfortunately, there is still sugar, then more sugar in the form of maltodexterin. The reason they specify that it is from corn is because the alternative is rice maltodexterin.

    Make no mistake, while it is not legally sugar, it will cause a spike in your blood glucose, and is just as bad as HFCS. Splenda, equal, and those other packets that have artifical sweetener have Maltodexterin as the base to carry the artificial sweetener. Insidious for us Diabetics, when it is supposed to help us.

    A funny factoid as well. While the product has 33% less salt, the company has to provide a taste vehicle from somewhere else. They turn to sugar to provide that. Irony, no?

    Take out all the good fats (like cold-pressed olive oil) and good vinegars (like red wine vinegar) with natural spices, throw in some preservatives to make it shelf stable… and you have what you are looking at there. Tasty, sure. Nutritious? Not even.

    The irony of all this is that you could make your own, with a jar, 5 ingredients, and a good elbow. It would even taste better. That is a post I am working on for another day.

  3. Yeah, I was going to say vinaigrette. I read labels but it's often hard to really know what you're getting. I try to buy the product with the most simplified ingredient list–no scientific terms to confuse me!

  4. I never knew that vegemite was autolized yeast extract. I'm sitting here giggling over the fact that the whole country of Australia is crazy for autolized yeast extract. I wonder if it would have taken off so well there if it went by it's real name, lol!!

  5. People pretty much got this. I got some emails also that it was some sort of Italian dressing. So that's pretty spot on!

    I forgot to mention in the post, but if people have suggestions for a "Guess The Food" Post, email me! [email protected].

  6. I haven't read the other comments yet. I think it is some sort of asian dressing or sauce…like duck sauce for eggrolls.

  7. I don't get the appeal of commercial salad dressings – ? They tend to be used by folks who like things natural – they are using them on salads, right?- and yet these things are generally quite unnatural. But the strangest thing is that's it's just not that hard to make a fresh salad dressing before dinner – you'll even have enough left for the next week or two. And it'll taste 10 times better than the store stuff.

    What's the deal?

  8. Ooo ooo ooo! Speaking of salad dressing, you got any salad dressing posts in the pipeline? I mean, I never get tired of straight vinegar mixed with Creatine, but sometimes I could use a little variation on my delightful summer salads…

  9. 'Autolyzed Yeast Extract' caught my attention right off……

    Being a former Debilitating-Migraine-Sufferer, I remembered the link to "Truth In Labeling" which has a fantastic little pdf file for double-checking those supposedly insignificant ingredients…..

    There is was…….another name for MSG.

    My vote is for a salad dressing.

  10. i'm new to this web site, and i love this entry…keep em coming, and yah it was pretty clear that it was some sort of vinaigrette, what with the water-oil-vinegar combo

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