Monthly Archives: May 2008

What’s Unilever’s Secret Ingredient in Breyers Ice Cream ?

Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm. Natural Tara Gum.

We don’t know about you, but we salivate at the mere mention of the stuff.

Maybe it’s the “natural” qualifier that does it for us. I mean, if Unilever used artificial Tara Gum in their Breyers Ice Cream, we wouldn’t have nearly the same hankering for the stuff. It’s sort of like the ingredient list on some foods that have water as their main ingredient. Don’t just call it water. Call it “Natural spring water”, “Triple filtered, sparkling well water” or something similar.

After posting our recent article about Unilever again shrinking the container size of Breyers Ice Cream, we found other postings on the Web which pointed out that Unilever had also recently changed their Breyers recipe to include the ingredient “tara gum”, which is used as a food thickener, similar to guar gum and locust bean gum.

Of course, you do have to wonder why Breyers, a brand of ice cream that was always so proud of its ingredients, would suddenly find it necessary to add this delectable vegetable gum to their product. We suspect that they have cheapened the recipe, probably cutting down on the dairy cream content.

We also have to wonder about Unilever. Isn’t anything sacred to this food industry behemoth? They’re messing with a brand that has always been held up as being pure and simple. They obviously have little respect for the intelligence of their customers. Do they honestly believe that prefixing “tara gum” with the adjective “natural” is going to convince consumers that this is a desirable ingredient? Why not add “natural crude oil” or “natural snake venom” to the ingredient list while you’re at it? In fact, Breyers’ very own advertisements used to poke fun at competitors who used ingredients like “guar gum” or “vegetable mono- and diglycerides” in their ice cream. Sounds like the pot is calling the kettle black, if you know what we mean. Hypocrites !

If you can stop salivating long enough to finish reading this article, we’ll fill you in on Tara gum. Until we saw the other postings about Unilever using it in Breyers Ice Cream, and then reading it on the ingredient list on a Breyers 1.5 quart carton on our most recent excursion to the supermarket, we had never heard of tara gum.

Does tara gum have anything to do with the 1939 movie “Gone With The Wind” …or is it a reference to a Hindu goddess or a character from the soap opera “All My Children?

No, No and No.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (fao.org) defines tara gum as follows…

Obtained by grinding the endosperm of the seeds of Caesalpinia spinosa (Fam. Leguminosae); consists chiefly of polysaccharides of high molecular weight composed mainly of galactomannans. The principal component consists of a linear chain of (1,4)-beta-D-mannopyranose units with alpha-D-galacto-pyranose units attached by (1 6) linkages; the ratio of mannose to galactose in tara gum is 3:1.

Caesalpinia Spinosa? Endosperm? Polysaccharides? Glactomannans? Mannopyranose?

Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? No wonder Breyers Ice Cream tastes so good. It must be the endosperm.

Oh… and what else are the seeds of this native Peruvian plant useful for? According to this article on wikipedia, “Water from boiled dried pods is also used to kill fleas and other insects“. Maybe feeding Breyers Ice Cream to your dog will take care of that flea problem.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Business, Consumerism, Deception Engineering, Food, Health, Life, Money, Personal, Retail, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Shrinking Products, TV Shows, Uncategorized, Your Health, Your Money

Unilever Shrinks Its Products Again: Breyers Ice Cream Now 25% Smaller !

Good news for all you dieters!

Containers of Breyers Ice Cream now contain 25% fewer calories, 25% less fat, and 25% less sugar.

How was Breyers / Unilever able to come up with a product that tastes just as good, but which contains fewer calories? They simply made the package smaller. Again. (They also added this secret ingredient).

For the second time recently, Breyers Ice Cream has been downsized by Unilever. Reduced. Shrunk.

For as long as this ice cream lover can remember, Breyers Ice Cream was sold in half-gallon (64 ounce) cartons. First, Unilever downsized the half-gallon carton to 1.75 quarts (56 ounces), which was a 12.5% reduction. Now, they have downsized the 1.75 quart carton to 1.5 quarts (48 ounces). This means the original half-gallon carton of Breyers is now 25% smaller at 1.5 quarts. The 1.25 quart carton of Breyers Ice Cream can’t be too far away.

To make things worse, unless we’re mistaken, the price of a carton of Breyers Ice Cream has gone up while the size has shrunk. But even at the same price per carton, a 25% decrease in product equals a 33% increase in price-per-ounce. For instance, even if the cost of a carton of Breyers held steady at a hypothetical price of $4.00, you used to get 64 ounces for that $4.00. But now, you will pay $5.33 for 64 ounces (one-and-a-third cartons), a 33% price increase. Factor in the increase in the price of a carton, and you’re probably paying 40% or 50% more than you did, say, a year ago.

We knew something was up when we opened the door to the freezer case on a recent shopping trip. The Breyers Ice Cream cartons looked smaller. The cartons look more like funnels than ice cream cartons. But it wasn’t until we looked closer that we realized that Unilever was up to their usual tricks. Breyers cartons proclaim things like “with fresh milk & cream”, “All Natural”, etc, usually as far away from where the carton weight is printed as possible. Wasn’t Breyers always made with fresh milk and cream? Why the attention-getting claims? Because Unilever’s usual way of drawing your attention away from the part of the package that states the shrinking weight of any of their products is to print some attention-getting claim somewhere else on the label. In our opinion, a pretty lame example of Deception Engineering on Unilever’s part.

We’ve written previously about shrinking products. Here’s a post from another blogger who wasn’t too thrilled to learn that Breyers cartons have shrunk again.

Sure enough, their 1.75 quart containers of Breyers are now 1.5 quarts. Sneaky. Very sneaky. But we still noticed, so not sneaky enough. We think everyone else will notice too. If not, that’s why we’re here.

Here’s a photo of the downsized Breyers cartons posted at consumerist.com

We put the Breyers back and bought another brand that offered better value.  If you’re wondering whether you can still find a half-gallon of ice cream that is a full half-gallon, the answer is YES ! You can find it here, and it is still less expensive than the downsized brands.

If Unilever does two more downsizings of one-quarter of a quart each, as they have done recently, you will then be getting one quart instead of a half gallon of ice cream. Even at the same price-per-carton, that will be a cost increase of 100%. That’s double.

…but imagine how much easier it will be to carry those grocery bags home.

Thanks, Unilever.

(Psst… Hey Unilever… You should know that each time you downsize one of your products, there will be more and more of your customers who will simply conclude that it’s no longer worth buying. There’s a tipping point, at which the decline in market share begins to accelerate, and the product never recovers. An example of this is the newspaper publishing business. Ad revenues decline, so publishers cut back on content, number of pages, the size and quality of the paper they use to print the publication, etc, while at the same time raising the cover price. Readership declines, which further erodes advertising revenue. Soon, the publisher realizes it’s a loosing battle. It’s reached the vanishing point. Similar dynamics apply to consumer products.)

– Routing By Rumor

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What’s In That Little Blue Packet? Sweet Deception !

We’ve written at length about how companies are employing Deception Engineering to try to fool consumers. It’s usually related to a manufacturer’s attempt to camouflage the fact that you are paying more and getting less.

But the newest deception that the bloodhounds at RoutingByRumor have just picked up the scent of takes the art to a whole new level. Now, it seems to us that manufacturers such as Domino Foods, Inc. are playing games that might affect your health, if not your peace-of-mind. This is where we draw a line in the sand, and say enough is enough.

We used to be one of 7-Eleven‘s best customers. We spent a lot of money on 7-Eleven coffee. Then we discovered Quick Chek. They operate more than 100 convenience stores in New York and New Jersey. We believe Quick Chek offers much better value than 7-Eleven or just about any other convenience store. They also have many more coffee flavors than 7-Eleven offers, and a slew of goodies to let you fix your cup of coffee just the way you like it. There’s also other goodies at Quick Chek stores, like totally fee-free ATMs, where you can get cash without worrying about paying exhorbitant fees to the bank that operates their ATMs. (Of course, if your own bank really sucks, they might still hit you up with a fee for having the audacity to use another bank’s ATM. In that case, it may be time to switch banks.)

Now, if you will, let’s talk about color.

Perhaps the best way to instantly communicate is with color.

Yellow means CAUTION. Green means GO. Red means STOP.

You know that a baby dressed in blue is a BOY, and one dressed in pink is a GIRL.

In most big cities, you know to look for a yellow car when you need a TAXI CAB.

Most POLICE OFFICERS wear blue uniforms.

FIRE ALARMS are always painted red.

MONEY is green (well at least it used to be… U.S. currency has started to look tooty-fruity lately.)

MOURNERS wear black.

BRIDES wear white.

SUGAR (remember that? It’s the natural stuff) comes in white packets.

…some people will only use sugar, choosing to avoid all artificial sweeteners. But if you’re trying to limit your intake of calories, trying to avoid a sugar “rush”, or you are diabetic, there are several artificial sweeteners to choose from…

SPLENDA (or generic sucralose) comes in yellow packets.

and as the back of the packet indicates…

Splenda is made with the artificial sweetener sucralose, and distributed by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, a division of Johnson & Johnson, in Fort Washington, PA. Splenda is suitable for people with diabetes.

SWEET N LOW (or generic saccharin) comes in pink packets…

and as the back of the Sweet N Low packet indicates…

Sweet N Low contains saccharin, and comes to you from Cumberland Packing Corp, Brooklyn, NY. Since it doesn’t say that it’s suitable for diabetics, we’ll assume that it’s not.

EQUAL (or generic aspartame) comes in blue packets…

and as the back of the Equal packet indicates…

Equal is “distributed” by Merisant US, Inc, Chicago. IL (does that mean they manufacture it also?). Equal brand sweetener (and similar products) contains the artificial sweetener aspartame. Aspartame, which is a bazillion times sweeter than sugar, gets metabolized by the body into several compounds, including phenylalanine. People who have the genetic disorder phenylketonuria or “PKU” (they are called “phenylketonurics”) must not consume Equal (or any other sweeteners made with aspartame). That is why, in the United States, at least, products containing phenylalanine must carry the warning “PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE“.

The above packet colors are recognized by just about every coffee and tea drinker in the world that have eyes in their head. Those packet colors are as God intended them to be. Anything else would be blasphemy. If you have PKU, using the wrong colored packet could be deadly. If you are allergic to cancer, you might likewise wish to avoid certain colored packets. Of course, there is a school of thought that says everything that is man-made causes cancer. Perhaps, but life is a mine field, full of choices, and you have to make the best choices you can, based on the available information. A little dose of common sense goes a long way, too. Here’s an excellent article about artificial sweeteners and cancer risk from the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

With the aforementioned knowledge firmly in your grasp, you know immediately, for instance, that this packet…

…contains saccharin, since it is pink. If you want to check, flip the packet over…

…and sure enough, it contains saccharin, just like Sweet N Low. That’s why the packet is pink.

Now if you pick up this packet…

…you’d be lead to believe it contains aspartame. Flip it over to check…

…yup, it’s aspartame, the same stuff that’s in Equal brand sweetener. That’s why this packet is blue.

But Quick Chek’s little blue packets have looked a little different lately, for instance…

…but hey, it’s still blue, so it must be aspartame. Let’s flip it over just to be safe…

Thought we wouldn’t notice, did ya? There’s no aspartame in THIS little blue packet. It contains saccharin. That’s pretty sneaky, don’t you think? And it raises the following question: Why is this packet blue?

So Quick Chek’s little pink packets, as well as their little blue packets, both now contain saccharin. That sucks, pure and simple. We don’t know if the decision to put saccharin into blue packets was Quick Chek’s idea, Domino Sugar’s (Domino Foods) idea, or a joint decision. At this writing, we also do not know if this practice is more widespread than just Domino or Quick Chek.

Why on Earth would they do something like that? Could it be an honest mistake? Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they used the wrong color paper to make the packets. You don’t think this may be a case of Deception Engineering, do you? I mean, why in the world would the nice people at Quick Chek (or at Domino Foods) try to fool you about what’s in those little blue packets?  Aren’t these businesses concerned that they are destroying consumer’s trust in their brands… or does the profit motive blind them to any ethical considerations?

Just thinking out loud for a second, could it be because saccharin is a fraction of the cost of aspartame? For instance, Sweet N Low brand sweetener has always been much less expensive than Equal brand or Splenda brand sweeteners, and the same holds true for the generic versions of saccharin versus aspartame. (We don’t believe there’s a generic version of Splenda on the market, since we’ve never seen generic yellow packets of Splenda-like sweetener.)

This is about much more than which sweetener tastes better. There are many consumers who avoid using saccharin because of concerns that it may be a carcinogen. The fact is that from 1981 thru 2000, saccharin was listed by the U.S. government as a possible carcinogen. Products containing saccharin were required to carry the following warning: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” Saccharin was removed from the carcinogen list after further research failed to confirm any link to cancer, but many people, including this author, avoid all foods containing saccharin. We are not amused with the fact that Domino Foods, Quick Check, and probably other manufacturers and retailers, are apparently trying to slip saccharin past us, no doubt in an effort to save money. If you wish to avoid products containing saccharin, read our related article, “What’s In That Cup Of Diet Soda?“.

We suspect that this article will elicit a lot of comments from readers who are as outraged as we were to discover this deception.

– Routing By Rumor

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“The Iraq War Has Been Won” – A Grammar Lesson In Past, Present and Future Tense

Senator McCain speaking in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday

credit: Associated Press / CNN.com

It has been widely reported that Senator John McCain, while campaigning in Columbus, Ohio this week, announced that “By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom. The Iraq War has been won.” Talk about irrational exhuberance.

It’s the most curious statement we’ve seen yet about the war in Iraq. We can’t figure out if it is future tense, past tense, both or neither? Is it wishful thinking, a sign that dementia is setting in, or a slightly premature victory speech from the apparent next President of the United States? And if this is victory, what does defeat look like?

Before John Sidney McCain III makes any long term prognostications, he would be well advised to take a look at what George Bush was saying five years ago, in May of 2003. Mr. Bush spoke under a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” on the deck of the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (read CNN article). He spoke of having accomplished victory in Iraq. Not only was that claim untrue then, it’s even further from the truth today, five years, a Presidential term, and 4,000 dead Americans later. And George Bush was speaking in the present tense, which one would think gives him an advantage over the Senator from Arizona. If Mr. Bush could be so wrong, why should anyone put much stock in Senator McCain’s predictions about Iraq?

Perhaps what the Senator was really saying was “just give me four years to clean up this mess”. The fact of the matter is that January, 2013 will likely mark the end of McCain’s tenure, Iraq or no Iraq. If you’re reading this blog in 2013, please leave a comment, telling us whether the prediction President McCain made about Iraq back in 2008 was accurate.

Don’t get me wrong… I’ve felt that John McCain is the only viable candidate at this juncture. Unlike the other major candidates, he is the only true American hero, and the only candidate with what we believe is the prerequisite experience required by the office. But after hearing him hallucinate out loud in Columbus, we are starting to have our doubts.

A sidenote: In doing research about Senator McCain for this article, we stumbled across his page on Dickipedia. That’s right, Dickipedia, not Wikipedia. Absolutely hilarious stuff. Very, very funny. ROFL funny. (Not to be confused with ROFLCAT). Now I know why the World Wide Web was invented. We just hope Dickipedia never creates a RoutingByRumor page.

Q: How do you know when you’ve won a war?

A: It will look something like this…

Japan signs formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945

This is what winning a war looks like. It has all the trappings of a victory (see more here). Unlike what has happened in Iraq, you have an event that clearly signals to the world that it’s over, and who the winner is. No such luck with Iraq. Indeed, we’re no longer fighting a government over there. Who’s going to sit down at the table to sign a formal declaration of surrender?

More than 4,000 of our troops have died so far, and you can be certain that thousands more will die before we find a way to extricate ourselves from Iraq (see “Faces of the Fallen” at The Washington Post). In the words of The Clash, who asked the question “Should I stay or should I go?“, they concluded that “If I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double“. Ditto for America’s military involvement in Iraq.

Now, to be fair to Senator McCain, what do you expect him to say? Should he promise to pull out of Iraq the day he becomes President? Should he commit to staying indefinitely? There’s no clear exit strategy for Iraq, and we’re not sure that one is possible. It’s a politician’s worst nightmare.

It is debatable whether we’ve accomplished much of anything over there, and Iraq is much more unstable today than before we invaded. We think that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was preferable to what exists over there now, and there are probably many Iraqis that would agree. Does anyone really believe that we will ever be able to claim victory in Iraq?

Most importantly, is America more secure today than it was before we invaded Iraq?

– Routing By Rumor

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The Coming Gasoline Crisis… Get Ready For Gas Lines And Rationing !

credit: Florida Sun-Sentinel / americanphotojournalist.com

photographer: Melissa Lyttle

The first gas crisis in the United States in recent (post WW II) times was during the winter of 1972-73. The second gas shortage was during the summer of 1979. It was during that crisis that gas prices broke (at least in the Northeast U.S.) $1.00 a gallon for the first time. Those were the good old days. Fast forward to 2008, when, for many parts of the United States, gasoline is now topping $4.00 a gallon, and rising daily.

Despite the fact that we are almost 30 years down the road since the last energy crisis, we are still almost totally dependent on petroleum-based fuel. Electric, natural gas, solar, hydrogen and to a lesser extent ethanol, have failed to make a significant dent in our demand for petroleum-derived gasoline and diesel fuel.

There are still virtually no all-electric, natural gas or hydrogen vehicles on the road, with a fairly insignificant number of these alternative-fuel vehicles in some fleets, such as utility company, transit authority and delivery company vehicles. Have you ever seen an electric, hydrogen or natural gas refueling station ? Even today, for all practical purposes, gasoline and diesel are the only fuel options available. What percentage of the privately owned passenger vehicles in the U.S. are all-electric or gas-electric hybrids ?

Despite more energy-efficient homes and appliances, we continue to set energy consumption records. Electric utilities generally set new winter and summer peak output records each year. It seems that no matter how efficient our homes or cars become, no matter how hard we try to conserve energy, we will never see lower demand for energy. All we can hope to achieve is to slow the increase in energy consumption.

While the increase in total energy consumption varies by geographic region and market sector, consumption generally increases between 1 and 3% annually (see US Department of Energy report).

Now couple our ever-increasing appetite for energy with the fact that developing nations, most notably China, are significantly increasing their energy use. It portends continuing increases in the price of energy from all sources, not just oil. It also means tighter supplies and future energy shortages (see this April, 2008 AP article in the NY Times about tight oil inventories). With the summer approaching, shrinking gasoline supplies (despite higher prices), and increasing seasonal demand, it’s a recipe for trouble. They are even attributing a decrease in U.S. oil supplies to fog in the port of Huston. What’s next… blaming it on which way the wind is blowing ?

Recent world events related to shortages of food staples such as rice, wheat and corn are already being felt in the United States. While there does not appear to be a true shortage yet, the prices of all these commodity items has risen sharply in recent months. And yes, much of this increase can be tied to the price of oil.

We are seeing more and more instability, in terms of price and availability of food items. In just the past few weeks, rationing (or more accurately, purchase limits) have begun to pop up at retailers around the United States, on rice and flour. While panic buying is likely to blame to a great extent, a tight supply is no doubt at the root of these actions, as well as the sharply higher prices.

credit: freeenterpriser.com

Gasoline is subject to exactly the same market behaviors as food. To some extent, it is even more vulnerable. You can’t plant more oil seeds next Spring in anticipation of higher demand. The crude oil supply is more or less constant, at least for now. It’s a non-renewable resource, so once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

It would not take much to touch off panic buying of gasoline. A steep short-term increase in the price of crude, a new political crisis in the Middle-East, a weather-related emergency, or some unforeseen event that influences energy markets, are all capable of creating a crisis overnight.

We think that the recent run-up in gasoline prices has significantly increased the likelihood that we will see another gas crisis in the near future. This is regardless of whether there is a true shortage, or if it’s just panic buying that takes hold. Don’t be surprised to see gasoline rationing being put in place as soon as this occurs, whether it is imposed by the retailers, or by the government. Don’t be surprised to see long lines at the pumps, a la 1972.

– Routing By Rumor

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A Lesson From The Bush-Cheney School Of Economics, Washington, DC

Main campus of the Bush-Cheney School of Economics, Washington, DC

<wishful-thinking>

OK class, ready for today’s lesson?

Good …Repeat ten times after me:

We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession. We are not in a recession.

Very good. Now, to recap…

We are not in a recession.

Any questions ?

Yes, the fellow in the back row, go ahead…

“Professor Routing By Rumor, you are repeating the administration’s claims, and telling us that there’s no recession, yet there are signs everywhere you look that tell you otherwise. In fact, Professor, you’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not see proof everywhere that we are indeed in a deep recession, or worse. You know, Professor, denial is not just a river in Egypt !”

I’m the professor here, and there’s no recession because I said there’s no recession. That’s sort of like how it works in Washington, too. All they have to do is adjust the definition of a recession to fit their needs. And for every fact you can produce that proves we’re in a recession, they can dredge up ten that will prove we’re not in a recession. Of course, they haven’t lost touch with reality completely, and they realize that they have to admit to some bad news. So they tell us we’re inching close to a recession, but that the U.S. economy is still healthy. Maybe a tad sluggish, a bit of a downturn, a slight dip perhaps, but not a recession. Definitely not in a recession. Call it anything you like, but don’t call it a recession.

</wishful-thinking>

<reality>

Today, while discussing the latest employment figures, President Bush said “That’s a sign that this economy is not as robust as any of us would like it,”. Saying that the U.S. economy is not as robust as we would like it is like saying the Titanic was not as waterproof as they would have liked it. Mr. Bush wins first prize in the Routing By Rumor understatement of the year contest. He gets two (2) one-way tickets from Washington, DC to Texas, valid until January 20th, 2009. We figured he’d want to take Laura home with him, so we thought the second ticket would be a nice touch. If he wishes to use the tickets sooner, so much the better for the U.S. economy, not to mention the mess in Iraq.

The economy is getting worse on a daily basis. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, layoffs, and downsizings are at record levels. The cost of living is going up at record levels. Gasoline and food prices are increasing daily. We’re starting to see retailers ration some foods. Decent paying jobs with good benefits are becoming harder and harder to find, if they exist at all. The real estate market is in horrific shape. Interest income has evaporated for millions of seniors that depended on it to survive, and you can’t find a good place to invest your money… certainly not Wall Street.

You are probably asking yourself when the administration will start being honest with the American public, so here’s what we believe to be a likely timetable…

It’s a pretty good bet that hell will freeze over before the Bush administration acknowledges a recession.

Expect to see Osama Bin Laden release a video apologizing to America, before George Bush admits what 99% of America already knows.

You will see Cuba become the 51st state before the White House levels with you about the economy.

Chances are that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez will proclaim his love for America before George Bush takes off his rose-colored glasses, and sees the world the way everyone else does.

Iran and Hamas will each profess their love for Israel before you hear the “R” word coming from George’s lips.

Shites and Sunnis will be kissing each other and dancing in the streets of downtown Baghdad, on the same day that the New York Times prints the headline “Bush Says Economy Is In Recession”.

Friends, it just ain’t gonna happen.

</reality>

Oh… and while we’re on the subject of hell freezing over, here’s something you’ll see when that happens.

credit: worth1000.com & talkintrumpeter2

– Routing By Rumor

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