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March 06, 2009


Or are they emphasizing the fact that it's not mere high-fructose corn-syrup or some other trickery that the common consumer hasn't yet heard of?

"Real real real real (real real real sugar)"

Evaporated cane juice isn't pure sucrose. It contains some residual organic compounds that give it a distinct flavour - see e.g. demerara sugar, the sugar we had in our home while I was growing up.

Also, +1 to cwillu on the non-fructose point.

When I find something similar, I don't feel superior because I have discovered the trick. On the contrary, I usually get scared about the possibility of being fooled if I hadn't discovered it. But I am afraid that such discoveries don't significantly change my probability of buying the product again (and I am not completely sure why).

"My guess is that other readers are not much offended because they enjoy feeling superior to the fools mislead by such ingredient wordings."

In turn, my guess is this sort of thing is why Cowen refers to as an atomist.

"My guess is that other readers are not much offended because they enjoy feeling superior to the fools mislead by such ingredient wordings."

My guess is that you enjoy feeling superior to the people you accuse of feeling superior.

Seconded cwillu, Barry Kelly, and JewishAtheist. Surely putting the actual ingredient rather than erroneously calling it 'sugar' is better. And they're not tricking anyone into thinking it doesn't contain sugar if they also list 'sugar' as an ingredient.

It's possible that by dividing the sweeteners into two types, they push any mention of sugar down a few places on the ingredients list.

As a consumer, I take this to mean its not corn syrup. I do not feel clever about it. I think the wording is intended to signal that Cane sugar is fancier than corn sugar. I'm usually sympathetic to your intuitions, but I think you are really out on a limb with this one.

Could the gain from fooling this few really outweigh the loss of respect from all the other readers Trader Joe's should suffer?

You assume there is some respect to be lost; consumers expect companies to deceive them in this way, so probably will see this trick as confirming `all companies are liars', rather than `Trader Joe is particularly bad'.


Um, I like your theory, but really this issue has to do with government paternalism in food labeling. My personal blog, as everyone knows, is about food, the pleasures of "real" food. So I've been following this issue off and on for a little while now, about 9 years.

People are interested in organic food; they will pay up to 30% more for items labeled organic. To food people, organic had certain clear meanings; marketers of course were slapping it on everything. Thus the food people fled to the government for a standard, which was issued in 2000.

The problem is that the standard is - surprise! it's a government document! - massively unclear and inconsistent in quite a few places. Now the idea of organic is supposedly that it's not "processed" or is only "minimally processed."

The definition of processed here is the issue within the use of the organic term. The USDA actually listed evaporated cane juice (which isn't standard sugar, as cwillu notes) as a problem ingredient here:

"Inconsistencies and confusion have continued because of the conflicts with the current definition of 'Nonagricultural substance' regarding the statement that “a nonagricultural ingredient also includes any substance, . . that is extracted from, isolated from or a fraction of an agricultural product so that the identity of the agricultural product is unrecognizable in the extract, isolate, or fraction.' Many processed agricultural products have been extracted, isolated, or fractionated during processing to the point were the product no longer resembles the starting agricultural product. Examples of organic products in potential conflict with the definition include, but not limited to, whey protein concentrate, milk protein concentrate, evaporated cane juice, and maltodextrin."

Trader Joe's would like the price benefits and consumer cred of the organic label, but the organic stature of evaporated cane juice is in doubt. Thus it reverts to the legally safe moniker "Natural Milled" to keep food activists and the government off its back.

But the bigger question is why we still have this unworkable and probably-not-working organic bureaucracy in the first place. I think more and more food people are regretting having gone with the USDA.

The second bigger question is why is there sugar or sweetener in pizza? There shouldn't be. Pizza (depending on whether it is Neapolitan red or Roman white) should have flour, water, salt, yeast, possibly tomatoes, olive oil, possibly garlic, basil, rosemary or thyme, possibly mozzarella and possibly a topping, such as real spinach. That's it.

I haven't shopped at Trader Joe's for years - I remember the old days in Cali. when it was great, but its new modern fast-food incarnation is well - they put sugar in the pizza, what more do you have to say?

And yes, I do make my own pizza from complete scratch every Sunday and have for nearly 20 years. I wonder if I could make a nice business from it now, labeling it "organic" and "sugar-free!"

While I don't have rigorous confirmation, I suspect that evaporated cane juice has a lower glycemic index than bleached sugar. Probably a small difference, but not purely a question of feeling superior.

My personal blog, as everyone knows
I didn't know. You can include a URL in your name when you post here.

There are a lot of people who care about what kind of sugar they consume and how it is processed. I doubt Trader Joe's is trying to fool anyone. They are more likely responding to the demand for more specific labeling. Trader Joe's has been trying to gobble up a share of the natural foods market. They have a lot of copycat versions of popular name brand "natural foods," though many of them aren't actually that healthy.

As a health-conscious, ethical vegan I read the labels on everything.

Evaporated cane juice is unrefined. Because it is unrefined, it is also vegan, since the refining process for most cane sugar uses bone char from animals. (As far as I know, beet sugar is always vegan because it uses a different process.)

It also does retain some nutrients, though I don't know how much or how beneficial they are. The extra minerals may help neutralize some of the acid-forming effects of the sugar. As Nathan Labenz pointed out, it may have a lower glycemic index than refined sugar.

Calling it cane juice also distinguishes it from beet sugar, which may be important to some people. I don't know if cane sugar differs from beet sugar in its effects on the body, or if the evaporated cane juice version is really significantly healthier. But there may be some people who know/care.

There may also be people who associate cane sugar with exploitative and environment-damaging sugar cane plantations. I don't know what how beet sugar compares.

I'm not an expert in any of these issues. I just want to point out that there are people who know and care about the distinction.

Evaporated cane juice is really hyped in the natural foods world, so a lot of people will be familiar with it and prefer it. They may be manipulated by marketing hype into thinking that it's actually good for them, but I don't know how many actually feel superior about it.

BTW, I don't think calling it evaporated cane juice distinguishes it from corn syrup. I'm pretty sure corn syrup has to be identified as corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, so "sugar" would have done just as well.

"Pizza (depending on whether it is Neapolitan red or Roman white) should have flour, water, salt, yeast, possibly tomatoes, olive oil, possibly garlic, basil, rosemary or thyme, possibly mozzarella and possibly" provolone, cheddar, parmesan, feta, artichoke hearts, eggplant, olives, capers, onions, spinach, crushed red pepper, bell peppers, green chili peppers, jalapeños, banana peppers, pineapple, mushrooms, truffles, pepperoni, salami, Italian sausage, ham, bacon, ground beef, chicken, anchovies, tuna, salmon, shrimp, oregano, black pepper, chili pepper, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts, walnut oil or truffle oil.

Or whatever you want to put on it. When did you become the arbiter of what goes on pizza? We don't know how much sugar is in it. It seems to sell, though. Might be good.

I remember thinking this is why people tolerate lies from politicians. People like to feel like they've solved a mystery. I feel less threatened by someone's lies when I feel like they can't lie so well that I can't see through them.

Tying into the previous OB post, it might be possible for a politician to take advantage of this just by ensuring that the truth comes to light in a way that lets people believe they had already figure it out on their own.

I wonder if the news media facilitates this by using phrasing like 'New information HINTS at scandal' which allows a person to later believe that they were catching onto obscure hints all on their own.



I am not the arbiter. As you may not know, there is such a thing as DOC pizza.

The Italians remain essentially capitalist and thus have worked to institute standards and guilds that preserve the cultural and quality structures of their traditional products. This is only good branding from an export and tourist perspective; they are genius at marketing themselves, no doubt.

They have done this partially out of necessity as part of the EU, but also largely with an eye to ensuring they retain the features that draw billions of dollars of tourism-related activity to their country, although we cannot deny there is also a patriotic, cultural, and political side to it as well.

"We don't know how much sugar is in it"

Thus the obese American, waddling through the mall. And the horrific health care costs we have to pay for the diabetes epidemic. Honestly, as a society, we just can't afford sugar in everything anymore. Back to Cass Sunstein-style initiatives. . .

I'm with the people saying it's probably just emphasizing the source of the sugar because unrefined cane sugar is better/fancier/etc. than corn syrup or weird chemically processed stuff. Note that sugar cane does have a distinct flavor, most commonly found in molasses.

Especially given the current degree of (arguably silly) backlash against corn sweeteners, likely to be particularly common among the target demographic of Trader Joe's, it strikes me as a perfectly valid and not especially dishonest marketing trick.

My reaction, as a guy with a rusty chem degree, is that they are different, and "evaporated cane juice" gives me extra information. (as some soulless automaton mentioned, it's "sugar" plus "molasses" basically, but probably with fewer chemical breakdown components, a few more micronutrients)

Actually, for people with allergies, this is *really nice*. It saves me a great deal of trouble when shopping for my gf who can't have corn products.

Having said that, yes, "sugar" would still suffice, but the clarity makes me feel better about the rest of the ingredient list, that they are less likely to be hiding important details elsewhere.


Sounds like "overcoming bias" is starting to turn into yet another "i dont like you because i perceive you to be different" blog. Sad.

I added my mea cupla to the post.

Maybe the example was not as clear as it could have been and has blurred the central point.

“My guess is that other readers are not much offended because they enjoy feeling superior to the fools mislead by such ingredient wordings. The warm glow from feeling superior outweighs any lack of respect, or feeling insulted, and on net encourages such readers to continue to buy the product.”

Reading the last paragraph, the high level claims Robin seems to be making are that:

A). Some companies mislead us. And we, as a society, seem not to punish these companies for misleading us.
B). That instead of feeling offended, or punishing them, we then go on to purchase these products anyway.
C). Robin suggests that the reason we do this is that like to feel superior.

Having thought more about these points in turn, I think it’s the key motivator is more a case of traditional economic incentives than the need to feel superior. And on balance, the economic motive prevails.

A). Yes companies do mislead us more often than not, and we don’t punish them. This is true. The reason we don’t punish them is that there is little personal incentive to do so. It’s an externality! It costs us to punish companies, and we have little personal gain, which is why we don’t do it. Obviously. In the vast majority of cases, companies are only punished by those with personal incentives, like lawyers who sue them to receive financial reward.

B). What is your evidence for this? Again, it seems to be somewhat reaching. I believe the normal response is that people refrain from using products if they feel they have been mislead. They only continue to use these products because they have too, or its in their interests to do so. So again, it’s a case of incentives. I have seen no personal evidence of customers preferring to use products from groups that they know mislead them, and on its face, this claim seems to be a huge stretch, if not absurd.

C). The primary reason is that its in our economic interests to do so. Robin, if you can produce clearer evidence. Perhaps even a single example of people continuing to use products after they have been misled, when the don’t have other clear economic incentives for doing so, then maybe you would be more convincing. Absent that, I would have to conclude that your post is fundamentally flawed.

Hmm. THinking about evaporated milk, and condensed milk (or powdered, eck); I don't think anyone is trying to fool us when they give us one product or the other, they are distinct entities as the processing does impart some specific tastes since a lot of taste molecules are volatile, and affect flavoring. Maybe the same idea's at work.

A quick blog search brought this up, http://tragedy-of-the-commons.blogspot.com/2008/06/evaporated-cane-juice.html (note, there's a part two that's pretty interesting at the bottom). Looks like the primary difference, or the reason to state it is to justify the higher costs that organics are generally given, rather than a huge nutritional value (although nothing mentioned about taste. Maybe the placebo effect is enough to justify it).

People shouldn't be reading the ingredient list to find out how much sugar a food has. That's a row on the nutrition facts panel, and quantitative data ("X grams sugar per Y gram serving") is much more valuable than qualitative data ("has added sugar").

They should, however, be reading the ingredient list to see what kind of sugar it is, as well as what else is in the food product. And seeing the quantity orderof ingredients can be interesting too.

I remember a cereal label that said "serving size 28 g" and "sugars 15 g". I checked, and yep, the first ingredient was sugar, not grain.


I don't really care what the Italians have to say about pizza - while pizza (or something vaguely resembling it) may have originated in Italy (though I don't think that's been conclusively proven), it was at least much improved in New York and then perfected in New Haven (not to mention other, less important, regional variations).

As for sugar in pizza, sugar is a common ingredient in tomato sauces sold in America - it makes them taste better. Even in homemade sauces, I will put in sugar if it turns out I've utterly wrecked the flavor - it tends to rescue it handily.

Besides, there are already about 4g of sugars in a tomato, so it's not like we're introducing a completely alien ingredient.

Things have changed in the past couple of decades, but when I was a young-un in college, one of the quirks I learned about US regulations on food was that genuine demerara or turbinado sugars weren't legal in the US. Refining sugar cane into sugar is a multi-step process, with the sugar getting "whiter" each step (with "molasses" being the stuff removed). Real demerara sugar would be unrefined. At that time (and it *has* changed, since Sugar In The Raw [which is what I buy myself] is on the market), the only sugar that could be sold in the US had been refined all the way to white sugar, with molasses added back in to make it "brown."

The second bigger question is why is there sugar or sweetener in pizza?
As for the sugar in pizza, quite a few varieties of spaghetti/pizza sauces contain sugar (or some other sweetener in them). I don't particulary like them myself, but many of my friends in college preferred Little Ceasars for the fact that their sauce was very sweet (may have changed, but I'm kinda snooty about what I do/don't like, and quite round because I eat too much of what I like).

And yes, I do make my own pizza from complete scratch every Sunday and have for nearly 20 years. I wonder if I could make a nice business from it now, labeling it "organic" and "sugar-free!"
May I suggest a wood-fired oven? Although that's best with thin crust pizzas. Il Vicino is a good example, if you have one near you. http://www.ilvicino.com/ilvicino/locations.asp


"May I suggest a wood-fired oven

I have been a fire-freak for 25 years. Alas in Noo Yawk Sit-ay you are not allowed legally now to have a personal wood-burning oven.

I have just returned from the store, where I saw an olive oil bottle labeled:


I find it likely that many consumers are stupid enough to be misled by the "Extra Light" as if it meant "fewer calories", whereas in fact it means "watered down".

I find that most people, in general, have no clue about their energy and protein requirements, and will indiscriminately give preference to anything they think is "light", "low fat", "healthy", "natural", or "organic".

Witness meat products that say "97% fat free" (but have twice as many calories as actual low-fat products), regular yoghurt that says "99% fat free" (as opposed to actual light yoghurt which is simply fat free), products labeled "no fat" whose caloric content is 100% sugar, etc.

It's all meant to mislead people who never made the effort to educate themselves about nutrition, and such people are successfully misled. They have no clue what a calorie is.

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