Brent Carlson-Lee 

It appears spring has sprung. Time to dust off the Weber®, bicycles and the maple syrup tapping kit (maple sap runs best this time of year given its cool nights and warm days).

As the primary grocery shopper in our household, I long ago bought into the notion that high fructose corn syrup is not a good thing. As a result, I pay prices for real maple syrup that make me wince. I wince even more as I watch my four year old pour “just a little more” (i.e. a lot more) on his pancakes. So when I saw this jug, I thought I may have found a more economical alternative.

syrup jug

It’s in one of those maple syrup jugs. It’s all natural. It contains no high fructose corn syrup. Yet it costs 50% less than the straight-from-the-forest-to-your-table-with-love varieties. But let’s take a closer look.

The jug looks legit. Right shape albeit plastic.

It is all natural, although I think we can all agree that doesn’t mean much.

It contains no high fructose corn syrup, but it’s replaced primarily with brown rice syrup.

And what about the product name? When I first saw the jug I thought it read “maple syrup.” Turns out it reads “table syrup.” I can’t help but to suspect an attempt to put a “head fake” on consumers with the prominent use of “table” which has obvious similarities to “maple,” keeping in mind most people can read this quite easily.

wordsTo be fair, table syrup is a term of art to describe this category; however, the term is not used on the label of any other table syrups in the line. See “Original Syrup” as an example.

log cabinAm I just over analyzing this or does this cross a line into questionable marketing practices? In this case, I think the line has been crossed and others seem to agree. In fact, Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont sent a letter to major retailers voicing concerns. The Agency of Agriculture also contacted the FDA.

But it doesn’t appear that a bright-enough line was crossed. Log Cabin ® All Natural Table Syrup was launched in 2010 and remains on store shelves as pictured above.

Is it shoppers’ responsibility to identify this head fake? I mean James Harden didn’t get fined by the NBA for what he did to Ricky Rubio.

 

 

  • James Mahoney

    So let’s see: You thought you were getting “maple” syrup at 50% less than maple syrup, from a well-known brand that traditionally has sold diluted, if not ersatz, “maple” syrup. You returned to a familiar product because the new version doesn’t include an ingredient that you no longer feel comfortable consuming, and so you could justifiably accommodate your four-year-old’s sweet tooth without taking out a second mortgage.

    The first clue should have been: if it were maple syrup, then why would they prominently tout that it contains no high fructose corn syrup? Why wouldn’t they just say “real maple syrup,” which the ingredients would probably identify as the less-expensive Commercial Grade maple syrup (now called Processing Grade).

    They can’t call it maple syrup, ’cause it ain’t (though it may contain some). But they have to identify what the product is so that some dope doesn’t think it’s a jug beverage (and yes, there probably are people who would see the packaging as a certain type of happy juice).

    And did anyone actually think that Representative Welch expected retailers to be shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn from him that they stocked a national brand of affordable table syrup that, through the miracle of packaging and labeling, bamboozles people into thinking they were getting pure maple syrup at a cut rate? Despite the fact that the average person thinks of, and describes, that good ol’ brand’s product as “maple syrup”? More likely, Rep. Welch just takin’ care of business back in the district.

    As in most cases, caveat emptor (or, depending on how much of the stuff you eat, cavity emptyer).

  • unhappy buyer

    i made the same mistake. i bought the syrup thinking it was maple syrup considering its placement, shape, and name, and only later realized my mistake

    • James Mahoney

      So, Brent and Unhappy, here are the operative questions:

      Will you buy the product again?
      Will you recommend it to your friends and neighbors?
      How long will it be before that company regains your trust or you feel good about buying its products?

      I have a pretty good idea of how you might answer these questions. So even giving Log Cabin packaging folks the benefit of the doubt that they had no malicious deception in their hearts, one-off sales and reverberating caveats probably weren’t high on the list of marketing/sales objectives or brand promotion.

      • Brent Carlson-Lee

        James, I think about it in terms of a spectrum. One on end of the spectrum you have a world with no brands (think white sack with only “FLOUR” in black letters). One the other end you have out-and-out fraud. The question is: where do marketing tactics fall along this spectrum? Of course, brands have the right to create a story or emotional connection to their brand. Log Cabin itself does this. The literal log cabin is associated with the backwoods and maple syrup. Is this wrong? No. The question is how far can you move along this spectrum before it reaches questionable territory. In my mind, they entered this territory with the jug product. I agree with your point that one-off sales weren’t their objective. I also don’t view it as an attempt at malicious deception. But if the intent and results don’t match, why not admit a mistake and fix it?