I got fooled. I saw a word on the front of a food package, and I didn't question it. Despite frequently writing about the front-of-package claims on foods and encouraging everyone to turn the package over and read the nutrition panel and ingredients list, I didn't take my own advice.
What was the claim that got me? The word "plain."
I keep frozen vegetables on hand for when there are no fresh vegetables left in the house. Studies have shown that when produce is frozen right after it's harvested, it keeps most of its nutritional content. Keeping plain, frozen vegetables in the freezer is a smart way to make sure my family's dinners include nutritious vegetables.
So, when I grabbed a box of frozen Green Giant Sweet Peas that had the world "plain" on the front of the box, I thought the only ingredient was peas. I was wrong. As I was cooking the peas, I noticed the ingredient list also included water, sugar, salt and baking soda.
I was taken by surprise. Why would the box be labeled plain if the peas weren't plain?
So, I took to Twitter and Green Giant replied.
(2/5) We use the term “Plain” to indicate to our consumers that certain Green Giant Steamers boxed vegetables are not sauced.— Green Giant (@GreenGiant) June 5, 2018
In another tweet they explained "(3/5) All of our delicious varieties of Green Giant Steamers boxed vegetables, whether sauced (i.e., Rosemary, Teriyaki, Italian Herb), lightly sauced or plain, are merchandised alongside each other on supermarket shelves."
I get the impression that they think that if a consumer steps back and looks at all of their packages alongside each other, it would be clear the definition of "plain" is "not sauced."
It's not clear, and I said so.
We try to serve all our consumers in the best possible way. We'll be sure to pass on your comments to the appropriate team that handles such feedback. Have an awesome day!— Green Giant (@GreenGiant) June 5, 2018
Knowing my comments have been passed on to the "appropriate team," I let it go at that.
Read the back of the package
There's a lesson to be learned here, and it's one I already knew. The words on the front of a food package are always marketing terms meant to lead consumers to believe something about what's in the package. Engaged consumers should question those words because what we think they mean and what the marketers intend them to mean can be two different things.
Every time we purchase a product we're unfamiliar with, we should turn it over and read the nutrition label and the ingredient list. The information is there and it's not hard to find. Green Giant even noted that in one of their replies.
(4/5) When we add salt, sugar and/or baking soda to the products, we list those items in the ingredient statement and you can find the per serving amounts of sodium and sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel.— Green Giant (@GreenGiant) June 5, 2018
They pushed the responsibility to know what's in their foods back on me. And they're right. I must take responsibility for looking at the back of the box from all food manufacturers. When even the definition of the word "plain" isn't plain to understand, the front of a box clearly has nothing of value to offer but the name of the product inside.