Nutritional Shenanigans

And now for something completely different!

Listen close, and you will hear a tale of an intriguing interplay between consumer choice, government regulation and market competition, the likes of which happen all around us but for the most part go unseen.

There are two brands of unsweetened almond milk  – let’s call them A and B for expediency – at my grocery store. Until recently the nutrition label stated that A had 30 calories per cup and B had 40. A was marginally more expensive, but I really can’t tell a difference in taste and the ingredients lists look identical. I got into the habit of buying A because it seemed like getting to drink 33% more for the same number of calories seemed worth the cost.

After several months, on a lark I re-compared the nutrition facts between the two.  Low and behold, brand B now has the same nutrition breakdown as A!

This raises some interesting questions:

What changed the nutritional content? One possibility is that brand B altered their ingredient ratios slightly. Another is that they retested and the rounding fell on the 2.5 rather than 3.5 grams of fat side, so in fact, the actual product is unchanged. 

What prompted them to do whatever led to the label change? I suspect it was competition with brand A – they were probably losing sales because of the exact reasons that I bought A over B – the prototypical customer for unsweetened almond milk probably has similar priorities to me, and is in fact probably even less price sensitive.  

Did they have to pull government strings to get the relabeling?  Who knows. Cynically, I suspect “yes” but have no evidence to back that up.

Regardless, the story illustrates that although something may have hard numerical data associated with it, those numbers are not the end of the story. The data had to have been collected by some individual or group with their own incentives.

More space ranting to come… 

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