Gerber: A Broken Promise?

Several days ago Seth Godin’s blog caught my attention. He had a post about marketing and promises that said:

Marketing is about making promises and then keeping them. The marketer comes to us and makes a promise. If we accept the promise, a sale is made.

If we seduce ourselves into accepting small promises, we let everyone down…

The big promises of transparency and care, of design and passion, of commitment and stewardship–we ought to be demanding more of this.

We get what we settle for.

After spending the past couple weeks working on my series, Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food, I couldn’t agree more. Why? Because I believe Big Food has broken some sacred promises. While they may make and keep some smaller promises, they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. And although many companies are guilty of this in the baby aisle, one company in particular stands out—Nestlé, the owner of the Gerber baby brand. Continue Reading >>

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Six Simple Steps for a REAL FOOD Thanksgiving

Where are you in your journey to eat REAL FOOD? It can be overwhelming to make changes in what you eat, and that’s especially true on holidays like Thanksgiving when you’re entertaining friends and family. So if you’re new to eating less processed foods, what are some simple ways to improve your Thanksgiving meal? Here’s my list of six easy steps you can take to walk away from processed food and towards REAL FOOD that’s better for you and our planet: Continue Reading >>

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Baby’s First Snack Foods

Part II of the series Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food

Snacking has become a national pastime. The NPD Group, a leading research organization hired by most Big Food companies, recently reported that “one out of every five eating occasions is a snack.” Now that statistic might not be so alarming if the snacks were healthy. Unfortunately, more often than not these snacks aren’t real food. Instead they’re fat-dripping, salt-filled, GMO-laced fake food that has been highly processed. But after researching Part I of my series, Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food, I got curious. When does junk food snacking start? As I ventured back into the infant and toddler aisle of my local grocery story, I discovered it starts far too young.

“Pincer” Grasp

It all begins innocently enough. Around 6 to 12 months, children start developing “pincer” grasp—the ability to pick up things with their thumbs and index fingers. For millennium, children used this emerging skill to start “feeding themselves” real foods like small morsels of fruits or vegetables. But over the past 50 years, processed foods have been slowly squeezing out simple, real foods from baby’s high chair.

One of the first Big Food brands to market baby “finger foods” to Moms was General Mills’ Cheerios. With 1g of sugar and 2g of dietary fiber (in a 3/4 cup serving) it’s arguably one of the healthier choices among processed cereals. But with added salt and some genetically modified ingredients, these oat-based “Os” aren’t as simple as they claim to be. For decades, however, Cheerios remained a relatively unchallenged favorite in this first finger food world. However during the past 10 years one global food behemoth has decided to cash in on baby snacking, and in turn has set up millions of children for a lifelong snack addiction.

Yes, that company is none other than Nestlé, the world’s largest food company and owner of the Gerber brand. Nestlé’s self-ascribed approach for food items aimed at young children is “Start Healthy Stay Healthy.” While this sentiment sounds wonderful, I’d argue actions speak louder than words. So in today’s post I’ll take a closer look at Nestlé’s products targeted at a segment they call “crawlers.” Then in Part III of Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food, I’ll examine Nestlé’s line-up for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

Nestlé defines crawlers as children who crawl with their stomach on the floor and are beginning to self-feed with their fingers. For most babies these developmental milestones are happening around 6-8 months old. Remarkably, Nestlé also claims that as a crawler “grows into toddlerhood, about 25% of his calories will come from snacks.” After looking at Nestlé’s snack line-up, I’m seriously frightened.

Although Gerber Graduate Puffs are fairly similar to Cheerios (both contain GMOs and have 1g added sugar), Gerber’s version is definitely more processed by virtue of using some refined grains, having no fiber, and adding “natural” flavors. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that natural flavors are hardly what you imagine them to be. Instead, they are usually made up of complex compounds that are designed by “flavor house” companies that literally create flavorings as a way to get you “addicted” to food [If you want to learn more about this, visit my post entitled, Confessions of a Former Coke "Addict"].

So where do I net out on Gerber Graduates Puffs? All-in-all, I wouldn’t choose to feed my “crawler” this food.

Nestlé steps up their infant snacking game with Gerber Graduates “yogurt melts.” Although the package states “nutrition specially made for your child,” I’m very puzzled how they can defend this claim since each 7g serving packs 4g of sugar. Hmmm… I’m no math major but this stuff is more than 50% sugars. To top things off, the so-called yogurt is sourced from cows treated with growth hormones (rBGH), and Nestlé has decided to add some “natural” flavors for good measure. Let’s face it, Nestlé, this is nothing more than baby candy.

If the fact that Nestlé is serving up candy to crawlers isn’t appalling enough, take a look at Gerber’s lil’ crunchers. OMG, I can’t believe this—Nestlé is selling cheese puffs to infants with a front label claim “supports HEALTHY GROWTH & development.” Hello? This is a cheese puff made with with highly processed ingredients, 2g of fat (almost 30% by weight), GMOs, preservatives, dairy sourced from cows treated with rBGH, lots of salt, and “natural” flavors. Of course, if salty isn’t your baby’s thing, you can go the pre-sweetened snack route with Maple or Apple flavored Wagon Wheels.

How does this make me feel? I’m sorry, but in my 15+ years of food marketing experience, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more inappropriate lineup. When you pair “snacks” like these with research that suggests “junk food is as addictive as heroin,” you’re literally putting six month old crawlers on a course towards a lifelong struggle with food. Shame on you Nestlé. The sad thing is, Nestlé’s junk food approach to children’s nutrition doesn’t end there. So stay-tuned for Part III of Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food.

As always, thanks for visiting my blog. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my book, Fat Profits, you can download your FREE chapter here. With the holidays just around the corner, Fat Profits may be the perfect gift idea—an entertaining thriller that also gets people asking the question, “do I really know what’s in my food.”

Finally, if you’re new to my blog 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 for the latest updates.

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PART I: Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food

There hasn’t been a newborn baby in my home for a while. My son, Ben, turned 15 last May. While feeding a teenager healthy, unprocessed food has its own host of issues, I’ve been thinking a lot about babies again. No, I’m not expecting. You see, in less than a month, I will be an uncle. My brother and his wife are due right around Thanksgiving, and our whole family is excited. But it has me thinking—what exactly is in some of this stuff we feed our babies?

Ideally most newborns and infants are breast fed. Sometimes, however, things just don’t work out. I remember the challenges “we” had breastfeeding our son. If it wasn’t for the sheer determination of Ben’s mom, it just wouldn’t have happened. But if you have to use formula, what’s really in it? So I decided to check in with two of the leading formula manufacturers—Nestlé who owns Gerber, and Mead Johnson who owns Enfamil.

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has a quite a long and notorious history with manufacturing and selling baby formula. In the 1970′s its formulas (and the entire company) met a widespread boycott after it was revealed that Nestlé’s aggressive promotion of formulas was endangering infants in less economically developed countries. After weathering that storm, years later Nestlé bought Gerber to increase its global share of infant and baby feeding products.

When you look at infant formula labels, you quickly realize why breastfeeding is best. Simple and easy to understand ingredients? I don’t think so. But surely care is taken to prevent infants from exposure to growth hormones and GMOs? So I emailed Gerber to find out.

In my first attempt to answer this question, I received this following response:

Gerber has many products that use ingredients that are not made from GM crops. However, for some ingredients there are no non-GM options available as a result of the way crops are grown and harvested and how our raw material suppliers process their ingredients. All GM crops are reviewed by the FDA to make sure they are safe and nutritionally equivalent. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to call us @ 1-800-255-2164. We’re here 24/7.

Did they answer my question? No, not really. And I challenge the accuracy of their line “for some ingredients there are no non-GMO options available.” After several additional emails from me were ignored, I called Gerber’s 1-800#. Finally, after a long round-about conversation, the representative  confirmed that their formula most likely contains GMOs and is made with dairy products from cows treated with rBGH growth hormones. In the image above I’ve highlighted ingredients in Gerber’s Good Start formula that most likely are from GMO crops or cows treated with rBGH (you can click on the image to get a better view).

When investigating Enfamil, I decided to save some time and simply called Mead Johnson vs. emailing them. After putting me on hold briefly, a customer support representative answered with the whole FDA spiel about these products being safe, but then went on to confirm that their formulas contained ingredients from GMO crops and  cows treated with rBGH. Again, I’ve highlighted suspect ingredients on their label.

 

So what’s a parent to do? Are there non GMO/rBGH options? Undeterred, I decided to look at organic baby formulas. Surely, these have to be better, right? While these formulas are “clean” with regards to GMOs/rBGH, I discovered another issue that’s found in almost all commercially available non-organic AND organic formulas. You see, in a quest to replicate the naturally occurring DHA/ARA fatty acids present in breast milk, manufacturers fortify their formulas. That’s good, right? Well, maybe not. As a January 2008 Cornucopia Institute article entitled “Replacing Mother — Imitating Human Breast Milk in the Laboratory” reports:

…some infant formulas contain DHA- and ARA-containing oils that are novel foods—extracted from laboratory-grown fermented algae and fungus and processed utilizing a toxic chemical, hexane. These algal and fungal oils provide DHA and ARA in forms that are structurally different from those naturally found in human milk…

These oils are produced by Martek Biosciences Corporation and appear to be added to infant formula primarily as a marketing tool designed to convince parents that formula is now ‘as close as ever to breast milk.’ Substantiating this thesis is a Martek investment promotion from 1996, which reads as follows: ‘Even if [the DHA/ARA blend] has no benefit, we think it would be widely incorporated into formulas, as a marketing tool and to allow companies to promote their formula as ‘closest to human milk’.’

Furthermore, the Cornucopia Institute has exposed that many manufacturers further violate the Organic Foods Production Act by adding synthetic preservatives (click here to learn more). So even when choosing organic formulas, you may need to dig even a little deeper. Here’s a handy guide from the Cornucopia Institute that reveals potential DHA issues across all forms of baby foods and formulas. According to this guide, Baby’s Only Organic is the only formula that doesn’t use the Martek’s DHA/ARA blend. Instead it uses fatty acids that are derived from egg yolks. You can learn more about Baby’s Only Organic DHA/ARA blend here.

Stay tuned for Part II of this segment on Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food where I’ll take a look at how the snacking habit starts.

As always, thanks for visiting my blog. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my book, Fat Profits, you can download your FREE chapter here. With the holidays just around the corner, Fat Profits may be the perfect gift idea—an entertaining thriller that also gets people asking the question, “do I really know what’s in my food.”

Finally, if you’re new to my blog 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 for the latest updates.

 

To read Part II of Baby’s First Encounter with Big Food, click here.

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Processed Food: Trick or Treat?

Processed food ingredients can really sound more like a witch's brew

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

These verses uttered by the Three Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth have become legendary, and the weird ingredients they talk about make us shake our heads in disgust. But at least we know what’s in the witches brew. The same can’t be said for most of the foods in our modern-day grocery store. Unfortunately big food companies have cast a spell over most regulators that allows them to manipulate us with advertising, make deceptive claims, and mislead us with ingredient labels.

All natural is one of those claims that makes most people feel better about the food they eat. After all, if it’s natural it’s got to be good, right? Well, as we’ve learned in my series “All Natural … Really?”, natural doesn’t mean anything. In fact, buying all natural foods may involve playing your own home version of the reality game show, FEAR FACTOR. Why? Check out some of these frequently used food additives that qualify as “all natural.” They might be a little more than you bargained for:

    • Beaver Anal Glands: This bitter, very smelly, orange-brown substance is also known as castoreum. In nature it’s combined with the beaver’s urine and used to mark its territory. In the processed food world it’s commonly used in both food and beverages, typically as vanilla or raspberry flavoring. Watch out though, you won’t find it on the ingredient list since processed food manufacturers can legally call it “natural flavoring.”
    • Cow’s Stomach: Known as rennet and derived from the mucosa of veal calves’ fourth stomach, this ingredient is frequently used in the production of cheese to curdle the milk. Often listed simply as “enzymes” on an ingredient panel, it can be very hard to know exactly what you’re eating when you buy cheese.
    • Hair and / or feathers: Called L-cysteine or cystine by the processed food world, this non-essential amino acid is made from human hair or duck feathers and is used as a dough conditioner to improve the texture of breads and baked goods. Again, since cystine comes from natural sources, you can eat “natural” and still have hair in your food.
    • Beetle Juice: No, I’m not talking about the 1988 movie starring Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis. This beetle juice is used in our food and is often called shellac, resinous glaze, or confectioner’s glaze on ingredient labels. Made from the secretions of the female lac bug, this substance is scraped from trees and branches then processed to be used on some of your favorite shiny candies and sprinkles.
    • Crushed bugs: Known as Carmine, Crimson Lake, Cochineal, or Natural Red #4 on ingredient labels, this red food coloring additive is made from insects like the cochineal beetle. Frequently used in yogurts and beverages to give them a ruby-red color, a cochineal beetle can be a tough to spot on ingredient labels since it can be listed as a natural color.

Eating processed foods can be like playing Fear FactorWhat’s so infuriating about these ingredients is how they can lurk in your food and you may not even know it. Whether they’re disguised as natural flavors, enzymes, glazes, or colors, you deserve to know if they’re in your food, right? Unfortunately big food companies disagree. Even after contacting Nestlé, Kraft, General Mills, Unilever, and Dannon, I couldn’t find out the truth. For example, when I asked if a specific product contained castoreum, I got the following response:

All of our natural flavorings are vendor supplied and are therefore proprietary information.

We do not explicitly use castoreum. We cannot speak for our vendors that provide proprietary ingredients such as natural flavors. I want to assure you that the FDA does consider this ingredient as generally recognized as safe.

Do you believe that? I know I don’t. Food manufacturers know exactly what’s in their food, even if the flavoring comes from another supplier. But the food industry doesn’t want you or I to know the whole truth. That would hurt their business.

So in honor of Halloween, I’ve come up with a few new lines for Shakespeare’s Three Witches. And just as these witches’ prophecies foretold Macbeth’s downfall, if we all speak up, the processed food industry will be in for some real change.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Oil from a beaver’s ass,
Beetle juice shines food like glass.
Cochineal bugs make things red,
Hair and feathers condition our bread.
Poor calves slaughtered for our cheese,
Yes I’m scared of these mysteries.
Processed food it’s a shame,
Lying and deceiving is no game.
Since you’re acting with deceit,
We’ll fight to know what we eat.
Big food companies we’ve had enough,
It’s time to regulate all this stuff.

As always, if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it by pasting a link on your Facebook wall, liking it, or emailing it to a friend. If you have a chance and would like to learn more about my novel, Fat Profits, click here. And for more inside scoop on the world of food, please subscribe to my blog.

In honor of Halloween, I’m sharing this Halloween post from last year (originally published on October 30, 2011.) Believe it or not, it’s been my most popular post ever. Crazy!

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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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