Does Quaker Sell Real Food Anymore?

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Quaker's Logo has evolved over time, but can you still trust their products?

Part II of the series on Quaker, Are All Marketers Liars?

Quaker Oats traces its roots back to the 1850s. The iconic Quaker man image was adopted by the company in the 1870s based on the morals that Quakers embodied—integrity, honesty, and purity. Over the years the Quaker man (who’s affectionately called Larry by Quaker insiders) has been updated many times with his most recent evolution occurring this past spring. But through all of these makeovers, does the Quaker brand of today still live up to those original ideals? Or has Larry become just another shill in the sea of Big Food companies?

Quaker's line-up of Real Medleys: Apple Walnut, Summer Berry, Cherry Pistachio, and Peach Almond

To answer this question, I decided to take a closer look at Quaker’s new oatmeal offering called Real Medleys. They come in four varieties: Apple Walnut, Summer Berry, Peach Almond, and Cherry Pistachio. I chose the Apple Walnut sku as the basis for my investigation.

Quaker Real Medleys Apple Walnut Oatmeal

Without a doubt, when you look at the photos and sales copy for Real Medleys, healthy eaters may be pretty impressed. Everything looks so good for you! But does the Quaker man deliver? Let’s take a look at this nutrition comparison vs. my homemade oatmeal recipe:

Quaker Real Medleys Nutrition comparison vs. homemade oatmeal

Although both servings are approximately 200g prepared, Quaker’s Apple Walnut Real Medley weighs in with almost 100 more calories, 12 more grams of sugar, and 270 more milligrams of sodium. A quick look at the ingredient panel confirms the problem: lots of added sugars and salt.

In an attempt to be fair, I contacted Quaker Oats three times to determine exactly how much added sugar is in their product since obviously some of the sugars come from the dehydrated fruit pieces. Unfortunately Quaker’s response was:

I’d like to share with you that we’re unable to say how much added sugar is in our oatmeal because it’s not something we separate out when we make calculations for the nutritional facts.

Really? Why do you have to make it so hard for consumers to get meaningful nutritional and ingredient information? Having worked at three different Big Food companies, I can promise you that the R&D and nutrition teams know exactly what these numbers are. The sad truth is, Quaker (owned by Pepsico since 2001) just doesn’t want to share the information with consumers.

Undeterred, I decided to do my own detective work. So, I separated and sifted the ingredients of several samples to better understand exactly what’s in the Apple Walnut Oatmeal sku:

Breaking Down What's Really In Quaker Real Medleys
After weighing each of the ingredients, I was able to estimate that nearly 13g of sugar were added to this oatmeal in addition to the 9g of naturally occuring sugars (1g in oats, 7g in apples, 1g in cranberries, and 0.3g in walnuts). To put the 13g of added sugar in perspective, that’s more sugar than is in a serving of Quaker’s Cap’n Crunch cereal. Surprised? And if all this sugar isn’t enough to make you think twice, Quaker’s consumer affairs department was able to confirm one additional piece of information: Real Medleys contain GMOs (the sugar is “most likely” made from genetically modified sugar beets).

Now some of you may be asking why I’m picking on oatmeal. After all, there are a lot worse things someone could eat for breakfast than one of Quaker Real Medleys, right? While that’s true, let’s take a look at the bigger picture:

So What's Quaker Hiding From You in their Real Medleys Oatmeal?

The fact is that many people who are making an honest effort to eat healthier are getting misled by products like Quaker Real Medleys. Claims of wholesome multigrains and “real” fruit leanwash what’s really in their food. And while a single serving of Real Medley’s may not represent a dietary catastrophe, its impact adds up over time. For instance, if you ate a cup of Real Medleys twice a week for a year, that would add up to over 10,000 extra calories or the potential for an extra three pounds of weight gain—all while thinking you were eating “healthy” (comparisons are vs. eating a more sensibly sweetened homemade oatmeal).

So has Quaker drifted from its ideals of integrity, honesty, and purity? I think so! And if this example doesn’t convince you, check out what Larry has done with “wholesome” Quaker Chewy and Yogurt Granola bars. In fact, I think Larry’s been up to so much deception, I’ve got a more appropriate facelift for the Quaker logo. Why? Because plain and simple…Larry’s lying!

Does Quaker speak the truth anymore?

What do you think? Is Quaker lying to us about their products? Share your thoughts and comments below, and please forward this post with your friends. My hope is that through my blog and my book, Fat Profits, I can help change the conversation about what we eat and get more and more people asking, “do I really know what’s in my food?”

As always, thanks for reading my blog. And if you’re new here and you’d like to learn more about the tricks, traps, and tools Big Food uses to get people eating more processed food, please subscribe here.

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31 comments… add one

  • James Martin Moran October 9, 2012, 5:29 am

    Bruce,

    I’m really enjoying this series. I’m currently in a graduate certificate program at Tufts focusing on nutrition in the context of marketing and PR, and am posting your succinct analyses on our online class forum for my classmates to read. They are very relevant to what we’re studying.

    Thanks!

    Jim

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 9, 2012, 12:06 pm

      Jim:

      Glad you are enjoying this series, and thanks for sharing with your class. I’m not sure if you enjoy thrillers, but if you do, you should also check out my novel FAT PROFITS. It gives you a peek into what it’s like working in Big Food and shows how corporate greed and corruption mix to create a food system that is built to protect profits, not citizens.

      Thanks so much for reading my blog and sharing it!

      Regards,
      Bruce

      Reply
  • Kathy October 9, 2012, 8:14 am

    Regardless of the “trusted” manufacturer’s name, I think Big Food is in the business of making profits for the executives and shareholders–consumer health isn’t nearly as important as repeat sales. The fact that a company once known for its whole grains is now owned by a soda conglomerate speaks volumes about healthy intent! I never found instant oatmeal to be worth it’s weight in a BWCA food backpack! Buy the ingredients, preferably in the bulk aisle at the local co-op–it’s cheaper, better for you and really doesn’t add much time. It only takes 5 minutes to cook old-fashioned rolled oats, a little longer for steel cut; while the oats are cooking you dice or shred an apple to add, toss in a few nuts or sunflower seeds and a trickle of real maple syrup if you need more sweetness. You can do the whole thing in a slow cooker while you sleep or in the oven while you shower.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 9, 2012, 12:09 pm

      I agree Kathy. Our food system has become totally dominated by businesses making profits vs. truly nourishing lives. Hopefully, by working together, we can get more and more people asking the question, “is this food really good for me?”

      Thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Melissa Gough October 9, 2012, 8:17 am

    Great to expose some more of the deceptive marketing of big food. It just confirms the mantra, just eat real food, not the processed stuff. What’s so hard about just buying oats and throwing in a handful of craisins and some sunflower seeds and a quick squirt of honey or a teaspoon or brown sugar. Then you know what you’re eating. It’s so sad that big food has hammered into the public’s head for years that food is rocket science. It’s not!

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 9, 2012, 12:12 pm

      Melissa, your mantra is so right. These days it is extremely hard to find packaged food in your average grocery store that truly qualifies as real. Of all the things we do in any given day, we must realize that the food we put on our table must take the highest priority!

      Thanks so much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. Hope to see you around again!

      Bruce

      Reply
    • jazzycat October 9, 2012, 5:28 pm

      Melissa, not to be nit-picky but you actually just demonstrated how difficult it is! A handful of craisins has an incredibly high sugar amount. Not just because of the cranberries but added sugar is listed in the ingredients. Then we could take it even deeper with the GMOs (beet sugar?), sustainability produced vs monoculture for the ‘non-processed’ oats and additions you mention. Brown sugar is usually very highly processed. And where did the honey come from? Plenty of problems in that arena too! The list goes on and on and on…. Again, totally not meaning anything negative towards you at all! I am beyond boggled as far as what is even half-way decent to eat now, let alone what is actually ‘good’ to eat!

      Reply
    • Momma February 20, 2014, 10:04 am

      Try adding freeze dried fruit. There are many available &, to my knowledge, they are healthy. No cooking or prep necessary. Oatmeal is easy to take & throw in the microwave at work, even if you buy in bulk. Another great option is to mix it with organic yogurt or coconut milk, kind of like a parfait.

      Reply
  • Jenna October 9, 2012, 11:59 am

    Loved the post! Very informative. It’s sad that some people feel they do not have the time to prepare a healthy meal… when it may only take a few minutes preparation and cooking time. I sometimes eat overnight oats in the summer – and there’s little to no preparation required.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 9, 2012, 12:14 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Jenna. Unfortunately it’s pretty easy to get lost in life’s priorities. I agree with you, preparing a healthy meal needs to be at the very top of the list. Hopefully by encouraging folks and giving them some tips, step by step they will make some little changes that will help improve their lifestyle.

      Thanks again for visiting my blog and for your comment.

      Regards,

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Mary Ann Baclawski October 9, 2012, 3:33 pm

    As a real-life Quaker, I wish they would change their logo. And no, we don’t wear those funny clothes any more, though we still try to live up to the same principles.
    I make my oatmeal overnight in a rice cooker.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 9, 2012, 3:34 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Mary Ann. Good to hear the real Quakers still try to live up to the same principles.

      Regards,

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Mary Ellen October 13, 2012, 3:21 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree about the reason to pick on a “healthy” food like Quaker Oats. I know a lot of moms that are trying to eat healthier, but they really aren’t. They just have time to pick what looks healthy and move on without further investigation.
    Though the other 90% I think just don’t care. Or, reduce their intake of processed foods overall instead of taking in adequate calories from real food sources.

    This is my quick oatmeal fix: Combine 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats and 1 cup water. Bring to boil and cook 5 minutes on medium heat. Transfer to bowl. Add dash of cinnamon and shred 1/2 an apple over the oatmeal. Stir and eat.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 13, 2012, 5:28 pm

      Thanks Mary Ellen. Glad you liked the post and thanks for your quick oatmeal fix recipe!

      Have a great day and hope to see you back on my blog!

      Regards,

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Roc Rinaldi October 22, 2012, 8:16 am

    I use the one minute Quaker Oatmeal, not instant. Do you feel this is a healthy choice?

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 22, 2012, 10:42 am

      Thanks for your question! I prefer organic, steel cut oats because the grains are more intact. The more processing a food company does, the less work your body has to do—which in general is bad. The one minute Quaker oatmeal product is still much better for you than many other breakfast options out there. Just make sure you’re not sweetening it up a lot. A good general rule is not more than a teaspoon of maple syrup or honey to a cup of prepared oatmeal. Don’t mix the sweetener in. Instead, when you eat, with each spoonful try to grab just a touch of sweetness. At first, it may not taste sweet enough (especially if you’ve been consuming some of Quaker’s candy-like products). But over time your taste buds will adjust and that little bit of maple syrup will be all you need.

      Hope that helps. Thanks for visiting my blog!

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Robin Jingjit November 22, 2012, 12:57 am

    It’s so disappointing to think about how some people’s entire job is to find tricky ways to word things so that consumers think they are good for us when they are actually unhealthy.

    Reply
  • Liz Craig March 16, 2013, 6:33 am

    I just bought a bunch of these because they were on sale, but after reading
    The labels I avoided buying the one you chose because
    It had much more sodium than the peach or cherry the two that
    I chose. True it does have too much sugar/sodium but you
    Can’t beat the handy cups when you’re in a rush out the door.
    If we lived in a perfect world we would eat the steel cut oats which
    Is my favorite. I’ve tried both mentioned and LOVE the texture and
    Flavor and no I don’t work for the company I just am a consumer…
    At .58 per container I just had to try it. Thank you for your informative
    Post!!!

    Reply
  • Richard June 4, 2013, 9:01 am

    I really don’t think this is a good comparison. The design of the real medley product is really for on-the-go/cubicle people. There are other products meant for home use that would be more accurately compared to home-made oatmeal. What I would have preferred to see was the product compared to other oatmeal or general breakfast items that can be stored un-refrigerated for weeks, then made with just hot water.

    Reply
  • Kayla September 5, 2013, 7:57 am

    Thanks for the analysis! I read through this while eating my Real Medleys Summer Berry Oatmeal, and am disappointed to say this will be the last one I eat.

    Reply
  • Andrew September 16, 2013, 1:23 pm

    I guess I don’t share your anger over this product. Nowhere on the box is it advertised as “organic,” or “healthy,” or “low in sugar,” or “low in calories.” So I don’t really feel misled. I think I knew I was getting something that had a lot of sugar and salt in it compared to relatively unseasoned and unsweetened oatmeal. Should I take umbrage to the fact that this has 290 calories instead of 190 calories? I don’t think I should. I’m kind of glad it isn’t 400 calories or worse. Should I be denounced as unhealthy when I add a couple spoonfuls of sugar to my coffee because I think it makes it taste better? Because that’s essentially what Quaker has done with this product, and they haven’t really tried to hide it. Brown sugar is listed as a primary ingredient.

    And hey, what about your oatmeal recipe? 190 calories? Harrumph! If someone had your oatmeal two times a week for a year, that would be 19,760 calories! That is added pounds, which would likely cause morbid obesity and sadness. Better to just eat plain oats and water without all those extra apples, aka “Nature’s Candy.” You are lying to everyone by forcing them to eat candy!

    Reply
  • Cortney September 27, 2013, 8:59 am

    I have been eating healthy and exercising for about 2 years now. I have lost 117 pounds by eating Quaker instant oatmeal. It’s quick, easy, and taste wonderful. As a full-time working mom, I don’t have time every morning to “cook” oatmeal. It’s much easier to grad a packet or container and take it to work with me. I understand that it is not the healthiest thing I can eat, but it’s much better than the pop-tarts and doughnuts my co-workers eat. It kind of gets depressing hearing everyone bash companies that are trying to make healthier alternatives to what’s available. It seems everytime I choose something that appears healthy, I find something like this that just completely tears it apart and degrades it as unhealthy. Like I said, it may not be the best (I know whole natural foods are best), but in this day and time, it’s a much better alternative than other breakfast options.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 17, 2013, 10:42 am

      Cortney:

      I appreciate your comment. I totally agree that this instant oatmeal may be a better option than a pop-tart. It just concerns me that Quaker adds SO much sugar (MORE than a serving of Cap’n Crunch cereal) and people have no idea.

      Thanks,

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Debbi October 5, 2013, 9:33 pm

    I am so glad I found your article before I hit the “buy” button for a whole case of Real Medley oatmeal. I trusted Quaker to do their very best to make sure all of their products are the best nutritional value for the customer. I will think twice before I buy a Quaker product again. Thank you for your research!

    Reply
  • Gingy Quinn November 9, 2013, 10:59 am

    I’ve been eating the Quaker Medleys for a few months now, thinking I was eating healthier. Won’t be buying that again. Thanks for the analysis.

    Reply
  • S Desai November 17, 2013, 10:17 pm

    While I do appreciate the info provided, I’m also intrigued about the comparison you did. Wouldn’t the homemade oatmeal have a little more than 191 calories and 10g sugar if you added walnuts and cranberry’s as they have in their oatmeal?

    Reply
  • Kris January 5, 2014, 11:02 am

    Thank you for doing this!! I honestly thought I was buying something “clean”. The sodium comparison is what I value most. I just didn’t know the difference. I will eat my last 2 and then no longer will be purchasing these.

    Reply
  • LAD January 19, 2014, 4:47 pm

    I have to agree with S. Denai on this comparison. The information is appreciated, but when comparing recipes, you cannot compare apples to oranges or in this case cranberries and walnuts. Cranberries are naturally tart and therefore sugar is likely to be added if using fresh cranberries and walnuts are high in healthy fats and therefore calories as well so leaving them out of the nutritional comparison is not realistic when comparing the two. Also, dried fruit is real fruit, it just has a higher concentration of sugar (even without added sugar) than fresh fruit because it has less water which would also shift the calorie calculation. I also have to question why the only Real Medleys oatmeal analyzed is the one with the highest sugar content of the five at 22 g (which can probably be accounted for with the dried cranberries that are added since dried cranberries have sugar added because of the tartness). The other four range from 13 g to 19 g of sugar per the nutritional label. I, for one, add brown sugar, butter and a little salt to my plain oatmeal leaving it with a higher sodium, sugar and calorie count than the homemade recipe does. Trying to keep the big food companies honest is great as there are issues, but you need to do it with a realistic comparison. Do I think that Quaker Real Medleys oatmeal is the ideal health food? No, but when time is short it is much healthier than a lot of things I could grab for an on the go breakfast and I don’t need to add additional things like I do with plain oatmeal to make it taste less bland as it tastes good to me just the way it is. Claiming Quaker is lying is a bit farfetched and blaming them for being in business to make money is like claiming the American Dream is not something we should be working towards.

    Reply
    • LAD January 19, 2014, 5:06 pm

      An additional note is that a single serving of Captain Crunch cereal is only 27 g with 11.8 g sugar as compared to a single unprepared serving of Real Medleys Apple Walnut Oatmeal which is 75 g with 22 g sugar. If you compare 75 g of Captain Crunch cereal then the sugar content is 33.8 g which is higher than the Real Medleys Apple Walnut Oatmeal.

      Reply
  • Julie February 13, 2014, 6:45 am

    Hi, Must came upon your blog. Do you have a recommended product list?

    Reply
  • christycee February 25, 2014, 9:35 am

    Although I agree with many of your points and am grateful then you went through the trouble of manually separating the ingredients to investigate the sugar contribution I don’t think it is a terrible product.

    Sure it is sweet, but it is also much more expensive than making your own. As such, I think that this should be more of a treat and not a staple/every day breakfast item.

    Nonetheless, even if it were, I know that ‘based on a 2000 calorie diet’ – which is actually too much for me -, that most people can afford to have a 290 calorie breakfast. So saying that this adds 10,000 calories seems inaccurate.

    Reply

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Commenting Policy: Following the advice of a popular blogger, I’m running my blog conversation like it’s my living room. Just so you know, I won’t tolerate bad behavior in my living room, and I won’t tolerate it on here. Critical is fine and differing opinions are encouraged. But if you’re rude … bye bye. And when commenting, please use your PERSONAL name or initials and NOT your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. The bottom line is, be cool, keep it clean, and have fun! Thanks in advance for adding to the conversation!

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about.me

Bruce Bradley

Bruce Bradley

I'm a father, food advocate, consultant, and author.

Bruce is a former processed food exec turned food advocate, blogger, and author.

Before his food advocacy work, Bruce worked for over fifteen years as a marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. As one of the only former processed food marketers actively speaking out about concerns over the food we eat, the media often seeks Bruce out for his honest perspective. His 2011 interview, Confessions of a former Big Food Executive, was one of Grist online's Top 10 clicked stories for 2011.

Bruce now writes, performs speaking engagements, and provides business strategy and marketing consultant services to help ethical, sustainable businesses reach their potential.

Bruce graduated with an MBA from Duke University and a B.A. from Davidson College. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, he now lives in Minneapolis, MN with his son and their dog, Katie.

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