Artificially Sweet and Intentionally Misleading

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Branding, Business, Misleadership
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Do you use artificial sweeteners? I don’t, but I’ve been around enough people who do to know that they don’t say, “Pass the Equal.” Right? People say, “Pass me a pink.” or “Are there any yellows in there? No, then I’ll take a blue.”

Until recently, if you asked for a pink, you got a Sweet’N Low. Request a blue and you got Equal. And tell someone to pass you a yellow and you got Splenda. But just the other day I was in a restaurant with my family and when my mom asked me for a blue, which I dutifully handed her. As I did so, though, I noticed that all three packets – blue, pink and yellow – said NutraSweet on them.

That seemed wrong to me. And to my mom. And so I did a little research. The yellow packets, normally Splenda, are expected to contain Sucralose (sucrose combined with chlorine – yummy!) and not aspartame or sugar. The pink packets, normally Sweet’N Low, are supposed to be made of saccharine. And the blue packets, normally Equal, are usually made of Aspartame (derived from aspartic acid and phenylalanine.)

But in that restaurant, the yellow was a blend of cane sugar, ace-k (acesulfame-K), aspartame and neotame. The pink was actually saccharine free and contained ace0k and neotame. And the blue was a blend of Aspartame and ace-k.

Many people who use artificial sweeteners do so for health reasons. They may be diabetic, and need to avoid sugar. Or they may be on a low-carb diet, and have read that aspartame can damage the brains of people on low-carb diets. And they may not be paying very much attention as they reach for that little yellow packet that is now full of things they are trying to avoid by choosing a “yellow.”

Now who would go ahead and play fast and loose with the colors on artificial sweetener packets, and why?

Turns out it’s a partnership between Domino Sugar and NutraSweet, who have developed a brand of sweeteners intended to steal market share from their competition. Who cares if some innocent old lady who forgot her reading glasses grabs a couple of yellows and ends up in a diabetic coma?

The packets began showing up in restaurants and other food service locations first, long before normal consumers could buy them, which meant that the average consumer was unaware the new products even existed. And if you don’t think Domino and NutraSweet were counting on that, think again. According to NutraSweet CEO Craig Petray (as quoted in “A Bitter Sweet Battle Stirs Up Confusion: The Sugar Caddy Wars” on allbusiness.com), “We decided to go into each category — each color — and develop a product that was unique and better…Our goal is to shake everything up a little bit and see what consumers prefer…There are just four colors out there. How many colors are there in a rainbow?”

So is this good business or bad branding? Brilliant packaging or deceptive misrepresentation? Can “Let the buyer beware” absolve a company of deliberately camouflaging a product to look like a different product when the consequences to consumer health can be serious? And more importantly, can someone please explain to me where the FDA or the Consumer Protection Agency are in all of this?

Comments
  1. annie kalotschke says:

    My boss, an Md and diabetic, is adamant about the poisons in artificial sweeteners and will not use them. I am freaking about splenda having chlorine in it. Beautiful writing Jeff!

    • jlsimons says:

      Thanks, Annie. It’s pretty scary stuff, what we end up putting into our bodies sometimes. As a vegetarian, I eat a lot of Morningstar Farms fake meat food, like their fake chicken burgers. I stopped reading the ingredients years ago because the list of chemicals in the ingredients scared the hell out of me.

  2. Keith says:

    Outrageously irresponsible! This is why I only use pure sugar…

  3. Otto says:

    I’ve finally convinced some friends of mine that butter is better than margarine (“cows over chemistry”), and that real sugar in moderation beats artificial sweeteners any time. The fact that a major sugar supplier would try to get their product into the market by tricking you into thinking it was something else is pretty horrible. This is not like the store brand trying to dress up their packaging so you don’t feel bad buying “LemonUp” instead of “SevenUp,” this is the the kind of trickery that could land someone in the hospital because they are unknowingly putting the wrong thing in their body.

    • jlsimons says:

      Cows over chemistry. I am going to use that one. As a vegetarian, I eat a lot of Morningstar farms fake meat. The ingredients list reads like a chemistry textbook.

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