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View Full Version : Packaging and Assumptions, or Truth in Labeling


Irishman
04-27-2010, 10:23 PM
Not sure where to put this, but since it relates to a restaurant experience, here is as good a place as any.

Irishman
04-27-2010, 10:42 PM
Take 2.

Went to dinner at Red Lobster a "casual dining" establishment known by its marquis signature crustacean. (Yes, I eat there. Shut up!) After ordering I was sitting there bored, so I started rifling the sweetener packages.

This particular restaurant has custom packaged sweeteners in short tubes rather than the traditional rectangular packets. Observations leading up to the important revelation follow. The easily bored can skip ahead to the paragraph marked Now it starts to get interesting.

First note that there are the traditional package colors expected in sweetener options. There is the white package, the pink package, the blue package, and the yellow package. Further note that the first three come labeled with custom Restaurant Logo tubes rather than any brand name identifiers. For some reason the yellow tube is brand named as "Splenda", which is as expected. The white tube is marked on the back only with the word "SUGAR". Okay, there's not qty or nutritional data that is inherent in food labeling. Fair enough, it's a standard dose serving of sugar. The other three packages do contain said "Nutrition Facts".

The Splenda package is what you would expect. "NET WT 0.035 OZ (1g)", blah blah blah, "INGREDIENTS: DEXTROSE, MALTODEXTRIN, SUCRALOSE". Typical as expected, though as a side note dextrose seems to be in all the artificial sweeteners, and if following standard formatting is actually the main ingredient. Interesting.

Now it starts to get interesting. I picked up the blue package and started reading. It is labeled on the back "SUGAR SUBSTITUTE". Okay, nice and generic.

0 CALORIE GRANULATED SUGAR SUBSTITUTE A blend of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners.... Ingredients: Nutritive Dextrose, 3.6% Calcium Saccharin (28.8mg per packet), Calcium Silicate (anti-caking agent).

I'll let that sink in while I make a side comment about "nutritive sweeteners" and puzzle over that wording. What the hell does "nutritive" mean in these descriptions? Nutritive dextrose? Is it trying to suggest that these are the digestable bits?

Okay, now that that is over with, I'll return to the quoted paragraph. Your first objection is: "hey wait, you're getting your memory confused or something. That's not nutrisweet, that's saccharin." Nope, I'm staring at the packets right now (I stole took a set). Now you see my point and my puzzlement. Blue is supposed to be nutrisweet (i.e. Equal). Right?

So I look over the pink packet and it has the exact same content. "SUGAR SUBSTITUTE" etc. Saccharin.

Yes folks, this fine dining establishment is engaged in a curious game of bait and switch. See, they know their customers are accustomed to seeing the four choices by color packets. They know if they don't have the blue, they will get complaints. I have no idea why they have chosen not to carry the blue packet option (i.e. nutrisweet), but rather than have customers complain, they have decided to carry blue packets of sugar substitute. They fully expect the customers to see the traditional colors, make the assumptions, and therefore not realize they used the wrong thing. They are banking on there being a lot fewer people actually read what is in the packages or notice they aren't what they expect.

Okay, I am speculating. I don't actually know what is on the mind of the Colored Crustacean bigwigs at the head office. Maybe there was a snafu at the sweetener processing facility (the one that puts the sweeteners in their Restaurant Logo tubes) that somehow misprinted the blue packets and they really are nutrisweet. Or maybe the wrong colored paper got put in the wrong colored slot and nobody noticed in the sorting room. But the logical bet (if you bet, which I don't) is that it was a "marketing decision" to somehow gloss over their not carrying a standard sweetener choice for whatever inexplicable reason.

The moral of the story: don't assume you know what you are getting because the packaging looks similar to what you expect. It was different enough to notice it wasn't the same (the Pink Clawbaby on the front and shape of the packet) that a person should double check they really are getting what they should be (i.e. nutrisweet, not saccharin).

By the way, dinner was okay. I tried some new options on the shrimp, and while they were edible, I think I prefer the standard. Oh well, no harm no foul. At least with the shrimp.

Oh, and if you're wondering, I actually did say something to the manager. She happened to be dealing with a picky customer at the table next to mine, and when she asked if everything was okay with me, I made the observation to her. She was puzzled (never noticed) and said she left a note for the General Manager of the store. She seemed to think my aspersions on the company's attitude were unfounded and surely it must be some sort of error. :dubious:

Okay, I think I'm done with asides now. :D

OpalCat
04-27-2010, 11:47 PM
That's pretty odd. (Sorry I don't have anything more substantial to add.)

Green Bean
04-28-2010, 12:11 AM
As far as I know, Splenda is the most expensive of those three sweeteners, so if anything, you'd think they'd put one of the other two in the yellow tubes.

Weird, regardless.

gotpasswords
04-28-2010, 09:51 AM
It's been a long time since I've visited a Red Lobster, but Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse are other Darden brands (http://darden.com/restaurants/), and they also have the skinny tubes instead of flat packets. I wonder if they're putting Sweet-n-Low in blue packets there as well?

I'd also be curious if Merisant, the maker of Equal, would have any grounds to sue for violation of their "trade dress" - the overal impression consumers have of the product. Historically, consumers have associated white with sugar, blue with aspartame, pink with saccharin and yellow with sucralose. A 3rd Circuit decision in 2008 involving Splenda (http://paed.uscourts.gov/documents/opinions/08D0752P.pdf) might support this.

smiling bandit
04-28-2010, 10:17 AM
I'll let that sink in while I make a side comment about "nutritive sweeteners" and puzzle over that wording. What the hell does "nutritive" mean in these descriptions? Nutritive dextrose? Is it trying to suggest that these are the digestable bits?

Yeah, I'm pretty sure the "nutritive" emans it's digestible and you'll get some kind of tiny amount of calories fo energy from it.

Irishman
04-28-2010, 05:48 PM
gotpasswords said:
It's been a long time since I've visited a Red Lobster, but Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse are other Darden brands, and they also have the skinny tubes instead of flat packets. I wonder if they're putting Sweet-n-Low in blue packets there as well?

I'd bet money on it. Well, not actual money. Maybe Monopoly money. Or some random coupons from the mail.

I'd also be curious if Merisant, the maker of Equal, would have any grounds to sue for violation of their "trade dress" - the overal impression consumers have of the product.

I'd be interested in that, too. I mean, customers are expecting to see those items in their respective colored packages.

In the restaurant's defense, I am sure they will cite that the product at no time actually claims to be Nutrisweet, and that it is clearly labeled "SUGAR SUBSTITUTE", which is accurate and not a lie at all. So the merits of the case would pend on how firmly attached the colors of the packets are to the artificial sweetener market.

I'm sure, though, that Equal could make a publicity stink that would make Darden Foods look like assholes.

irishgirl
04-29-2010, 05:55 PM
:confused::eek::rolleyes:
Wow.

Sweeteners here come in 2 kinds- brown sugar and white sugar.
You want an artificial sweetener, you bring it yourself.

I had no idea that there was
a) that much brand awareness with sweeteners
b) that much brand loyalty
c) that big a demand for them

To me, all sweeteners taste awful. I don't drink diet drinks because they all taste horribly bitter, and I can't imagine voluntarily using them. My husband bought some godawful blend of sugar and aspartame by mistake (it was on special offer and he didn't bother to check why no-one else wanted it) and, although I hate to waste food, the whole thing went in the bin after I made a coffee, and realised his error.

I think people here tend to either just accept the extra 35 calories in their cuppa, or wean themselves to unsweetened tea or coffee. Most people I know don't take sugar in their tea or coffee now (but then these are mainly doctors and nurses- so as long as it is hot and caffeinated they don't actually care what it tastes like).

OpalCat
04-29-2010, 06:42 PM
I use Splenda in my coffee not because of the calories but because it actually dissolves into the drink without leaving sludge at the bottom.

Irishman
04-30-2010, 01:34 PM
irishgirl said:
I had no idea that there was
a) that much brand awareness with sweeteners
b) that much brand loyalty
c) that big a demand for them

Yes, Americans are much more sweet-focused than other places. Artificial sweeteners are huge here precisely because of that combined with "diet consciousness" - either weight loss or other factors.

Brand awareness and loyalty is big because each of those has its own flavor (in the aftertaste department), and because of other considerations. Saccharin is shown to cause cancer in rats (in doses so large that you would have to eat a ton of it a day to equal the dose). People think Nutrisweet causes brain damage. Splenda is the newest, not sure its downside yet.

They can also behave differently when trying to post sweeten something like iced tea. Sugar won't dissolve well - it takes a lot of stirring.

To me, all sweeteners taste awful. I don't drink diet drinks because they all taste horribly bitter, and I can't imagine voluntarily using them.

I agree about diet drinks. The sweetness level is usually lower than regular drinks. I'm told you get used to it. *shrug*

kayaker
04-30-2010, 01:50 PM
I use Splenda in my coffee not because of the calories but because it actually dissolves into the drink without leaving sludge at the bottom.

I use the pink packet in my iced tea for that very same reason.

And the tubes? They're pretty much SOP in some areas of the world. Looks like the US is playing catch-up once again.

Larry Mudd
04-30-2010, 02:03 PM
Do these mysterious tubes also contain the stock admonishment against using these products without being advised to do so by a doctor?

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