And another one bites the dust in the “all natural” food claims on-going battle. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Popchips back in April of 2013 claiming that the brand knowingly deceived consumers by marketing its chip varieties as all natural when a number of the ingredients used in their formulation cannot be classified that way. More pointedly, the lawsuit states that “the artificial and synthetic ingredients contained in Defendant’s Popchips include autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, dextrose, disodium phosphate, lactic acid, malic acid,
maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, sodium citrate, tartaric acid, torula yeast, xanthan gum, and yeast extract.”
Earlier this month, Popchips acquiesced, settling the lawsuit for $2.4 million while claiming they had not misled consumers and had not made any false claims. At the same time, the company agreed to change the verbiage on their website, in their ads and on their product packaging from “all natural” to “naturally delicious.”
These lawsuits have been popular in the last few years, and that popularity isn’t dying out. FoodFacts.com has to wonder why manufacturers continue to make all natural claims when their ingredient lists certainly can’t back them up at all.
Let’s take a look at a popular Popchips flavor just so we can all understand a little more about the lawsuit and the ensuing settlement.
Popchips Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips
Potato(es) Natural (Potato(es) Flour, Potato(es) Starch) , Safflower and/or Sunflower Oil,Seasoning (Lactose, Salt, Buttermilk Powder, Onion(s) Powder, Sour Cream Solids [Cream, Milk Non-Fat, Cultures] , Sugar, Corn Maltodextrin, Sunflower Oil, Garlic Powder, Lactic Acid,Sodium Caseinate, Whey, Spice(s), Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Flavor(s) Natural [Including Butter Extractives] ) , Rice Flour, Salt
Our database has identified three controversial ingredients out of the 27 listed: corn maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, and natural flavors. All three are identified as hidden sources of MSG. Let’s just focus on the sodium caseinate. The lawsuit defines this as follows:
Sodium Caseinate is a highly processed substance. It is produced through the
mechanical or chemical extraction of casein from milk and the addition of sodium
hydroxide to dissolve the casein and stabilize the proteins for a longer shelf life.
The resulting mixture is evaporated and leaves a tasteless, odorless, white powder
that is added to food to act as an emulsifier and stabilizer.
Doesn’t sound all that natural, does it? In addition, one of the selling points listed on the website is no added preservatives. Since sodium caseinate helps to ensure a longer shelf life of the foods in which it is used, we can reasonably assume that it actually is a preservative.
Natural flavors, as many in our community understand, aren’t really natural at all. They are derived from natural substances, but can and do undergo chemical processes in order to extract various compounds from the substances. In addition, natural flavors are made up of many ingredients which are not disclosed on any list. In other words, not everything about a natural flavor has to be natural.
An example from the ingredient list of Barbecue Popchips is natural smoke flavor. The compound AM 01 gives natural smoke flavor its characteristic taste, this ingredient is usually made by burning beech wood (Fagus sylvatica l.) and the production process consist on the following steps: pyrolisis (heating, burning) of wood particles in a controlled environment, condensation of the hot vapors, dissolution of the raw product in a solvent and subsequent cleaning, and finally distillation of the solution with a desired concentration of AM 01. AM 01 is controversial. In 2009 the European Food Safety Administration evaluated the safety (genotoxic potential) of AM 01, they stated that the use of this ingredient should be of safety concern.
Not especially appetizing and not what we would consider natural.
For us, it isn’t surprising that Popchips, like all the manufacturers who have been named in these lawsuits, chose to settle. Product differentiation is a necessary element in marketing. If a product can’t set itself apart from its competitors, it won’t survive. It does seem that many manufacturers jump on the “healthy product” bandwagon without justification in order to accomplish that differentiation without much thought. Claiming their products are “all natural,” especially in an overcrowded, well-branded snack category might seem like a fairly immediate “win” for some manufacturers. Until some very educated, no-nonsense consumers take another look.
If you bought Popchips between January 1st 2007 and November 14th, 2013 thinking the product was all natural, you’re eligible to file a claim. Click here for the details: https://popchipssettlement.com/mainpage/FrequentlyAskedQuestions.aspx