The other day, I was managing an in-store demo, one of the literally hundreds I’ve done this year, and it was running pretty smoothly until I was shown a product that really pissed me off. I didn’t know that I was a camel, but what I saw was the proverbial straw that broke me and I’m trying to grapple with what to do now.

For a bit of context, Bald Baker is a small business with very tight cash-flows and limited resources. We simply cannot undertake a massive marketing plan that will expose our brand to thousands of people in a way that entices a purchase decision. So like many other brands, we opt for in-store demonstrations where we can have very limited, but very high quality engagements with consumers. I take these opportunities to scope out what other products we’re competing against, new products in the market, how other companies are merchandising, etc., - it’s just a good time to get a lot of market information.

This past week, I was doing a demo at a natural foods focused grocery and health-food store when a woman hosting another demo started talking to me. We chatted about the entrepreneur’s dilemma and co-packing and other fun challenges we face, and then she showed me a beautifully packaged raw treats product. Raw foods have become an interesting sub-sector of the health and wellness industry and as I hadn’t seen this particular one before, I instinctively took a look, first analyzing the overall presentation & packaging, then the nutritional profile, then the ingredients. Here’s where I lost my cool: on the front was a health claim: “sugar-free*” among a few others, including “lactose free” and “soya free;” only the latter two did not have the asterisk. So I turn the package over and staring at me right in the face is the nutritional facts table that plain-as-day lists 5 grams of sugar. Huh? and to add insult to false and very injurious advertising, in the smallest possible permissible font, buried deep, is the asterisk stating “unrefined sugar.”

Nevermind the inexcusable grammatical inconsistency, this company is intentionally misleading consumers with a false claim on the front that could really hurt a sugar conscious (ie. diabetic) individual. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a legal definition of what sugar free means: less than 0.5g of sugar per stated serving size. This product has intentionally disregarded the law. If it was unintentional, that’s just as frustrating because it got through multiple layers of quality assurance, starting with the producer itself, then the distributor and then the retailers. There exists an institutionalized blind-eye state that allows any product at all to come to market, regardless of what’s in it. Just look at the vaping industry for a good example what the extreme consequences can be. This is a true caveat emptor situation: consumers are being mislead and unless they’re part of the very few small subset of the population that scans and understands an entire package before making a purchase decision, they’re liable to get very badly hurt.

I feel like I’m the only baseball player NOT taking steroids. How can a company compete in a game in which it is the only one playing by the rules? Time and again, I see products being sold In Ontario with sweeteners that are NOT PERMITTED in Canada (like Monkfruit or Alulose) or sold ones that are, but in quantities and volumes that are not permitted. I see statements like “sweetened with stevia” and then a cursory glance of the ingredients reveals other sweeteners, including sucralose and maltitol that are not mentioned. At the end of the day, our country thankfully has organizations like the CFIA and Health Canada that create regulations for producers to abide by, but enforcement is reactionary.

Somebody has to file a complaint before any action is taken. Whistleblowing is problematic for many reasons, so it is up to you, the consumer, to make an educated purchase decision, or suffer the consequences. READ THE LABEL FOLKS. For me, I will always run a company that creates and merchandises products in an ethical manner. Heaven forbid somebody gets hurt, but trying to pull a fast one over on consumers wouldn’t allow me to sleep at night, and I don’t know about you, but I need to end the day with a clean conscience.

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