With consumers becoming more and more aware of the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and other harmful synthetic ingredients in their food, companies are scrambling to find new ways to do what they’ve been doing to unsuspecting shoppers for years: to make them think what they’re buying is all-natural even when it’s clearly not.
You may recall the scene from the popular movie ‘Food, Inc.’ during which a scan of grocery store products was done, showcasing all of the “wholesome” and “family farm fresh” type images to mislead consumers into thinking they were buying something other than mass-produced, factory farm fare.
This sort of “natural by association” (or “organic by association) marketing push from big food companies is designed to lull consumers into a false sense of security through the use of new branding efforts so that they’ll add such products into their shopping carts now and ask questions later.
One such new grocery store brand is the ‘Simple Truth’ line from Kroger, the popular Ohio-based grocer.
A lawsuit was filed in February 2014 in Superior Court of Los Angeles County claiming that the line’s poultry products feature misleading labels, however. The suit alleges that Simple Truth poultry products are “raised in the same close confines” that are standard at large poultry farms.
“Looking to profit from growing consumer awareness of, and concern with, the treatment of farm animals raised for meat production, Kroger engaged in a deceptive and misleading marketing scheme to promote its ‘Simple Truth’ store brand chicken as having been sourced from chickens raised ‘cage free in a humane environment’,” reads the complaint.
Kroger fought and opposed the claims but eventually settled the lawsuit in October of that year before removing the label from its Simple Truth packaging. While once again we may never know the truth, it’s just an example of why it’s so important to keep companies honest and to question everything.
This type of alleged deception is one reason why some consumers are overly cautious about spending extra money on organic and “natural” foods.
A quick scan of other new “natural by association” food product lines reveals even more to be cautious about.
What is the ‘Simple Truth,’ Anyway?
While the Simple Truth brand at Kroger does offer products with fewer ingredients in general and less of the at-risk ingredients including preservatives and synthetic additives, it is well worth noting that many of these products contain likely genetically modified ingredients.
Recently not too long after the lawsuit news broke, I visited a local Kroger and did a random scan of Simple Truth products. Many of them contained likely or potential GMOs with ingredients including “corn” and “canola (oil)” not featuring any designation as to whether or not they are GMO.
Considering that the vast majority of all corn and canola in the U.S. is genetically modified, there’s a strong likelihood that these products indeed contain GMOs and are therefore far from “Simple.” Unofficially, Simple Truth products were more likely to be non-GMO than not, but without clear labels as to whether they are, the new name is useless since it doesn’t install any extra feelings of trust in the informed consumer.
Pictures below showing vegetable chips cooked in unlabeled (as to whether it’s GMO or not) canola oil (or safflower oil which is non-GMO) and Greek Yogurt from unlabeled (“ ”) cow’s milk add to the reservations about the product line.
The Greek yogurt below may be considered “healthy” by the general public, but considering it’s pasteurized and almost certainly made from cows that ate plenty of GMOs, it’s hard to classify it as “simple” and “healthy” or even “natural,” if our goal is to preserve the integrity of the “natural” term, that is.
Other Product Lines to Watch Out For
If you’d like to view the list of the 101 different items Simple Truth products are “free from,” you can view it on Kroger’s website — but buyer beware, as the company makes no claims of avoiding GMO ingredients within this list, unless you happen to buy Simple Truth Organic products, of course.
In addition to Simple Truth, other product lines have been released by major chain stores, each of them attempting to put the correct marketing “spin” on ambiguously natural products.
The drug store chain CVS for example has a ‘Just the Basics’ product line that includes dried snacks, cereal and much more in a more basic overall package to make it seem “natural by association.” But this line contains likely GMOs as well.
Even Whole Foods’ ‘365’ line contains at-risk GMO options in many cases, something a good portion of consumers don’t realize (Whole Foods announced it would only label GMOs, not ban then from their stores, by 2018).
With so much unused produce and so many ingredients floating around out there due to consumer rejection of GMO and unnatural products, it’s only “natural” that more and more stores and companies will now work to find new ways to brand and market them.
Their goal is to keep the GMO issue on the back-burner and to pass them off as the norm to unsuspecting consumers.
That’s where you come in, of course. Stick to the “basics,” buy more whole foods, read the labels like always and know at-risk ingredients, and you should be fine.
Thanks for reading! This article was first written in November 2015 and updated on June 2, 2021. If you’re looking for foods and supplements that are certified GMO free and organic with the purest ingredients and nothing to hide, check out this website (one of my personal favorites).