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Snack Manufacturers Know What They Are Doing

Here is some great insider info compliments of my intern Brittany DeNoon.

My introduction to the practice of reading labels began as an employee at Frito Lay/Pepsico headquarters in Plano, Texas. For over two years I worked alongside food scientists, engineers and marketing staff in the Research and Development (R &D) division. It was there I learned how ingredients are required to be listed on product labels (starting with the main ingredient, by weight, and continuing in descending order). So I learned how to change the first ingredients of a label list with a simple recipe reformulation. But perhaps the most important thing I learned was how corporate interests can insinuate themselves into their employees’ consciousness and ethical systems. In other words, the scientists I worked with put Frito Lay’s bottom line ahead of their knowledge of nutrition.

During my time with Frito I worked mostly with Quaker on a granola bar redesign.  As a strategy to keep sugars or sweeteners from the being the “first” on the ingredients list, our formulas used a variety of sweeteners like fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup solids. By using an array of processed sugars, “granola” could then be legally listed as the product’s main ingredient (even though “granola“ itself was a combination of oats and sugars). We did this often and with many other products. Label altering was/is a conscious and common practice in the food industry, often exchanged as brilliant information by those responsible for it’s discovery.

In addition to my lab lessons, all of the R& D employees I interacted with were active and conscious about their decisions and schemes to hoodwink the consumer. Intelligent scientists (many with degrees in nutrition), engineers and business people (almost all Ivy Leaguers) were pursuing the corporate climb. They knowingly worked in a place where innovations like the ingredient list loophole provided advancement and pay increase opportunities. I listened to the marketing department pitch how to make products seem more wholesome and healthy. I recall a particular strategizing session on how to hook “stay at home moms” to buy cookies as a healthy snack. Marketing was aware that many consumers were starting to read food labels. This also came just before the phase out of hydrogenated oils in snack foods. Frito’s marketers were psyched that they were ahead of the curve here; however, they had no compunction of putting in more sugar as they removed hydrogenated oils.

When it comes to food additives, Frito’s scientists were much more secretive….For example, when I asked about soy lecithin, I was given the explanation of it’s emulsifying properties needed to make the product “work” better. But when I asked about a particular chemical that I couldn’t even pronounce, they became evasive, and I was made to feel as though I asked too many questions.

It’s been almost 10 years since my time at Frito, and I am wondering what else they are now adding to their snack foods, and what effect it is having in people’s bodies.

This blog was written by Brittany DeNoon, who is currently interning with me here at Iris Herbal the week of Sept. 6th. She has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies, and wants to be an organic farmer. Go  HERE to see Brittany’s blog about her travels (she just got back from a stint in Korea teaching English to primary school children).