It’s Not Really Robbery…

…Because they’re not lying.  You’re just not reading the labels.

Are you paying extra because you don’t realize what you’re buying?  Here are some of the largest ripoffs in the supermarket, and how you can avoid paying extra for them:

Some organic produce: Ever wonder why organic bananas really aren’t that much more expensive than conventional bananas?  It partly has to do with the lack of natural predators to the banana.  And what’s worse?  You don’t need to eat organic bananas.  If you remove a thick peel before eating the produce, you’re already throwing away the pesticides.  This includes bananas, mangos, pineapple, onions, avocados… I can go on.  So what needs to be organic?  The “dirty dozen” are peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce, and potatoes.  The least contaminated are onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and papaya.  And organic wool clothing?  Um… that’s going a little far.

Hormone-free poultry: Last Thanksgiving, I counted at least five Facebook friends who felt better about their dinners because they had spent extra money on “hormone-free turkey.”  The truth?  Since the mid-70s, the USDA has regulated that hormones can only be used in beef.  No pork, no poultry.  So why do some poultry companies still advertise “hormone-free?”  I’ll let anyone who has ever paid more for their chicken answer that for you.  Antibiotics, however, fall into a completely different category.  If you don’t want antibiotics in your meat, make sure it says “no antibiotics” on the label.  Because, chances are, a farmer gave that animal some medicine to keep it healthy before it reached the slaughterhouse. 

Really? You don't say!

“Cage-free” chicken or eggs: Have you ever seen Food, Inc.?  I did, and it wasn’t nearly as left-wing as I expected it to be.  The living conditions they portray for chicken and beef are very realistic.  “Cage-free” only means that the chicken is not confined to a cage its entire life.  The bird can still have the same allotted space per animal, giving it only a few inches to walk around.


All natural products: Ok, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.  “All natural” is a marketing phrase.  So often, I’ve heard people say, “It’s all natural, so it’s safe.”  Rattlesnake venom is all natural!  Plus, define “all natural.”  If a human has picked a spinach leaf and stuffed it in a plastic bag, is it still natural?  What about the seafood pulled from the Gulf of Mexico during the BP oil spill?  That was rather natural seafood, with rather natural (and organic) crude oil all over it.  Next time you see these two words on a food or cosmetic label, just pretend they don’t exist.  Because that’s about all they mean.

Fruit drinks: Contains real fruit juice!  Right.  How much fruit juice?  And what else is in it?  Usually water, high fructose corn syrup, and maybe a bit of added wheat starch.  If the label contains the words “drink,” “beverage,” or “punch,” keep reading the label.  Check how much fruit juice is actually in it.

 The label tells you how much actual juice you get.

Cartoon characters: I read in a related article on grocery ripoffs, “You know there’s trouble when the food needs a mascot.”  These are normally sugary products, and most of the money you spend on them goes to marketing.  My kids constantly ask for brightly-dyed high-fructose yogurt with the right cartoon characters.  They’re getting older, so at least they understand me now when I argue that I don’t want to pay for a label.  But they still beg for it.

Laundry products: We can go both ways on this.  You can pay less for a bottle of bleach, only to read the label and find it has been diluted with water.  Or you can pay extra for a “concentrated” liquid laundry detergent and end up using just as much because you don’t pay attention to the lines on the cap.  Detergent companies stumbled onto something great when they realized this.  They offer less detergent, in a smaller bottle, and you buy more of it because you don’t realize how little it takes to do a load of laundry.  The most powerful cleaning agent in your washing machine is the water, and the force of the water as it agitates through your clothes.  The soap gives the dirt something to stick to, and it really doesn’t take that much to break the surface tension of the water and lift the dirt.

Shrinking containers: Look at the bottom of your peanut butter.  Is the container flat, or does it have a concave dimple?  That dimple allows the manufacturer to reduce a few ounces and sell it to you for the same price.  And they’re sneaky about it.  Your soft drink may come in a bottle that looks identical to the old one, but through brilliant design holds much less soda.  The doubly brilliant part?  They also slap a “value” label on it, and you really do think you’re only paying a dollar for the same thing that was a dollar five years ago… but also contained four or six more ounces back then.  The key to avoiding this trick?  Read the product volume.  It legally has to be there.  Balance the price with the volume to determine which product is a better deal per ounce. 

Now with two fewer servings!

Brand names: My ex-husband once worked at a cereal manufacturing plant.  They made flaked cereals, extruded (ring-shaped) cereals… all the popular shapes and sizes.  And partway through the manufacturing process, they stopped to switch box labels.  Often, they would stop long enough to switch the brand name box with a generic box.  That’s proof that it’s often the same product in either container, and the brand name just takes your money.  Alright, what about non-cereal products?  Does the egg carton claim they use genetically superior chickens, or is the milk from a creamier cow?  I agree that there are certain products that are only good if you use that particular brand.  I do buy some name brands, for these products.  But there aren’t that many.

Fillers: It’s the difference between 100% Parmesan cheese and the other stuff.  It’s what they use to make expensive potato “crisps” that come in a tube.  It’s why imitation crab is so much cheaper than real crab, and why celiacs shouldn’t eat it.  Buying a product that was “made with real maple syrup” may be less expensive than 100% maple syrup, but consider the amount of maple you’re getting compared to the amount of high fructose corn syrup you’re getting.  If you compared those two ingredients on their own, in the quantities you receive, you’ll probably realize you’re paying extra. 

At least it tastes a little like crab.

Light and fluffy: You may like your bread light and fluffy.  And often, the fluffier bread has fewer calories.  But what do you think makes it fluffy?  Air.  That’s what makes whipped yogurt, or slow-churned ice cream, have the nice texture.  If you don’t mind paying for the air, go ahead and indulge in the fluffy product.  I like my air to be free.

Do you have any other grocery ripoffs to list?  Please feel free to comment!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Karina
    Apr 15, 2011 @ 15:53:17

    Honey sauce is honey-flavored corn-syrup. Are you KIDDING me?


  2. Karina
    Apr 15, 2011 @ 15:54:55

    Honey sauce is honey-flavored corn-syrup. Are you KIDDING me?


  3. Farmgirl Susan
    Jun 02, 2011 @ 13:09:02

    A while back you left a comment on my blog asking about free ranging chickens doing – or not doing – damage to plants. Just wanted to let you know I finally had a chance to get back to you. You’ll find my reply here:

    Also, I can’t help but add my two cents regarding organic bananas, which are the only kind I buy. This is a really fascinating article about both ways of growing bananas:

    While I love that the EWG’s Dirty Dozen is becoming more and more well known, the sad fact is that conventional methods usually do a lot more damage and are a lot more dangerous than organic growing methods, beginning with the the soil and the farm workers – even if the end result doesn’t have ‘much’ toxic chemical residue on it. 🙂


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