• buyer beware: non-vegetarian agave gummy bears at whole foods

    February 1st, 2011quarrygirlstores, whole foods

    sigh. sometimes meticulously reading labels just isn’t enough when it comes to determining whether or not products are vegan. this was true for mr. wishbone (you remember him from operation pancake, right?) recently when he bought some agave-sweetened gummy bears at whole foods. here’s his story:

    I bought some gummy bears that appeared to have vegan ingredients, but when I tasted them I knew they had to have gelatin as an ingredient. I wrote to Whole Foods Global Office the note below and they responded today that I was correct. If you read my email to them you will see that not only were some of the ingredients missing but the nutritional info area also failed to show the protein correctly.

    mislabled gummy bears

    Basically they checked their ingredient listing and it looked o.k., but after more checking with their supplier they found that the label had left out the ingredients Gelatin, Lactic Acid, and Purple Berry Concentrate!

    I’m not forwarding their email as it has a nasty signature line saying something like their email was their property, contained their intellectual property, was their copyright, etc. and could not be shared, forwarded, released, without their prior consent.

    They have promised to change the labels and include the “forgotten” ingredients, but I wanted to let you know so others can be on the lookout for the old packages that don’t have all the facts.

    Here is a copy of my letter, I have removed the city of the WF Market I shopped at and stripped off the WF response.

    I purchased your “re-packaged” Whole Foods Market Agave Sweetened Gummy Bears (UPC 076958611483) near the bulk fruit/nut section of the XXXXXXXXXXXX (city name removed) market. I am concerned that you have omitted an ingredient and that many with religious and ethical beliefs would be upset to learn of it’s omission. I would like you to check the manufacturer’s ingredient listing and compare it to the label Whole Foods has created for this product as I believe you have omitted the ingredient GELATIN. The ingredients as shown on your package: “Organic Agave Nectar Syrup, Tapioca Syrup, Pectin, Citric Acid, Colors Added (Including Black Carrot Juice Concentrate, Turmeric, Annato) Natural Flavors, Organic Sunflower Oil, Carnuba Wax. May Contain Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Egg, Milk, Soy and Wheat. As someone trying to follow a Vegan diet, gelatin is not an acceptable ingredient and should be listed if in the product to allow me the choice to avoid this material. I tried to locate other agave sweetened gummy bears to see if perhaps I was incorrect and yours did not contain gelatin but was unable to locate them. Sprouts Natural Foods Market does carry a similar product, and I was able to find their ingredients and nutrition information online and they appear identical (including their order) except for some additional ingredents: Gummy Bear Agave PLU 6827 Ingredients: Organic Agave Nectar Syrup, Tapioca Syrup, Pectin, Gelatin, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Colors Added (Including Black Carrot Juice Concentrate, Purple Berry Concentrate, Turmeric, Annatto), Natural Flavors, Organic Sunflower Oil, Carnauba Wax. If these are the exact same manufacturer/bulk product, then you have not only omitted GELATIN but also LACTIC ACID and PURPLE BERRY CONCENTRATE. The Sprouts nutritional information indicates a serving size of 14 pieces, (Whole Foods shows 17) and while the Sprouts label indicates 2 grams of protein (no doubt from the GELATIN) Whole Foods label is silent. On your website it states “The FDA’s Nutritional Labeling & Education Act of 1994 requires that most food packages be labeled with nutritional information.” I believe this labeling does not comply with the requirements of the Act. Please send me confirmed and correct ingredients for this UPC item, and if incorrect please remove them from the store shelves until the ingredient labels can be corrected. I will retain this package of gummy bears for laboratory analysis for the ingredients GELATIN and LACTIC ACID, should you be unable or unwilling to confirm the true ingredients and manufacturer. Please respond at your earliest convenience. Thank you.

    YIKES!!!! beware people, especially when shopping at whole foods. this is a pretty big slip up, because gelatin isn’t even vegetarian, let alone vegan. 🙁

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34 responses to “buyer beware: non-vegetarian agave gummy bears at whole foods” RSS icon

  • Even if it says may contain eggs or milk on the label its still vegan?

  • That’s straight up balls, right there. Let’s hope they lrn2label their shit from now on.

    C’mon Whole Foods, you’re better than that. (Probably.)

  • Good catch!! Another reason to stick with real, whole foods. . . .

  • Shared equipment warning, m’friend. It’s really more for those that are allergic.

  • Man, that’s f’d up. Thanks for the heads up. Awesome letter BTW Mr. Wishbone.

  • this happened to me at whole foods in portland several years ago. i bought bagels that smelled like they had an egg wash on them when i toasted them, but neither “eggs” nor “egg wash” was listed on the ingredients.

    i wrote a letter and they acknowledged the labeling error, although i noticed they didn’t pull the items from the shelf immediately.

    in any case, nice detective work, mr. wishbone!!!

  • it double sucks, because when i see something that says “agave” on it, i immediately think, oooh! i wonder if that’s vegan!

  • That’s the standard allergy statement for non-dedicated equipment that is cleaned well between different batches of product. It’s a cross-contamination issue the FDA has tried to address with that boilerplate statement.

    If you go back to the Operation Pancake post you will be able to read more about this process, and the test kits we used are specifically produced to check if any allergens remain in the system from the previous batch.

    If they were shown as an ingredient it wouldn’t be vegan, but most are o.k. otherwise. (You couldn’t eat out anywhere but a vegan restaurant if you were that strict as the forks, plates, cups, etc would all not be used on vegan food only).

    Mr. W

  • I have eaten these before. 🙁

  • I’m so disappointed. Gummy bears are my absolute favorite candy and I was so excited to have found the “vegan” gummy bears at whole foods. I can’t tell you how many packages of these gummy bears I’ve consumed to make up for lost time. Man, I just feel dirty now. How in the world could they get away with not printing EVERY ingredient???

  • Sigh. I work for WFM as a Signmaker and I know I catch a lot of things with our pfds stuff and bakery. I do a lot of double checking when I’m making the signage and will ask questions if something seems wacky to me.

    The labels like that come from regional or corporate, not made in store specifically (at least in my region).

    I can assure you WFM wasn’t trying to trick anyone or pull anything. If the packaging SAID vegetarian/vegan gummies and then had gelatin omitted, I’d really have some big questions. As it stands, it looks like someone in their regional office biffed it up. Human error, is my guess. Nothing malignant.

    I’ve had other companies biff their labels, too. They’ll have (significant) cholesterol amounts listed with no animal products in the ingredients, as a for instance. Most are really fast to fix the problem once it’s brought to their attention.

    Even though this isn’t my store nor my region, I feel like I should be apologizing for the company. If you’re ever in the mighty Midwest, I can generally vouch for our regional peeps. Know you’ve got at least one vegan reading all those pfds/bakery/soup signs and double checking vegan stuff. I have no qualms with shooting emails to regional going “yo, why is this labeled vegan with honey in it? One of those is an error, dudes, and I’m not printing this until you tell me which is right.” They always fix it.

  • Be careful at Whole Foods salad bars and in the prepared foods sections, too. They’ll slap on little vegan signs on foods with milk ingredients. I have seen this in three different locations and every time I’ve pointed it out the response is something like “oops.”


  • i have found the prepared foods section (at least in weho) to be VERY careful about their vegan items. they use only vegan sugar, and the staff are super knowledgeable and take pride in their offerings.

    i don’t think people should boycott WFs because of this gummy bear thing…just be more careful about products with a WFs label.

  • Gauri Radha गौरी राधा

    Good to know about this.

  • My partner and I will still go to WF to shop for our Holiday meals, and I will continue to buy my VegLife vitamins there. I never liked Gummy Bears anyway.

  • I just had some agave-sweetened gummy bears yesterday from Rainbow Acres. They had the exact same ingredients list. Sigh… should have known it was too good to be true.

  • Candies are so tough. I remember when I first found out about carmine. That was a sad day.

  • I am always weary of those particular ingredient labels. I have had my eye on a bag of mixed flavored pistachios at the supermarket with one of those labels but I can only suspect what else is in it other than what is printed on the label. The flavors are lemon, garlic, chili and jalapeño. The lemon ones are neon yellow and the jalapeño ones are neon green and the only ingredients listed on the label are: lemon, jalapeño, salt, chili pepper, and garlic. Common sense tells me there is food coloring in it and who knows what else? What happens between the product getting from the supplier to stores?

  • I think you have inspired me, Mr. Wishbone. I am going to contact the company. If no one brings it to their attention that ingredients might be left out, they won’t find out until someone has an anaphylatic reaction to some allergen they had no idea was in the product they purchased.

  • oops I left out an ingredient, salt. lol

  • I agree. At Whole Foods in Tustin I have seen items containing honey labeled as vegan on several occasions.

  • Go for it Susielol! I think you will find extra ingredients (at least colors).

    I recently found a package of marshmallows in a Hispanic market and was surprised to see they had no animal products. Skeptical I called the distributor/packaging company and they explained that the listing “emulisfiers” could be anything from vegetable gum to gelatin. They couldn’t tell me for sure as the manufacturer was in Mexico and he said they often change ingredients due to price fluctuations but don’t often change the printing on the label.

    Be wary of imported products from all parts of the world as I’ve found problems from Japan, Mexico, China, Taiwan, and even here in the USA.

    Good luck!
    Mr. W

  • Thank you so much for this research, I appreciate this site so much! I am so disappointed in WF. I’ve eaten these gummies lots of time and now like a few other people, feel totally yucky. The gummies I’ve bought from WF DID say vegan on the WF label. I haven’t gotten them in awhile so I don’t know if it’s changed or if it varied from store to store, but I bought them specifically because they said vegan. I will continue to shop at WF but will avoid anything WF-labeled from their prepared section – I don’t care what store I’m at. WF has no excuse for not properly labeling foods – they’re a major natural foods store, it should be their top priority. People shop specifically there because of special diets and allergies. I wish WF California stores had people like Leona looking out for us…

  • NO grocery store can say they are GMO free. Most of our corn, soy, canola are GMO in the states. The only way be be as sure as possible is to buy organic since it disallows GMOs. However, even organic can be tainted due to drift from GMO crops to organic fields.

    The Non-GMO project is doing testing and companies, natural and organic, are opting in to have their items tested and certified.

    Whole Foods Market had ALL our store brand stuff, both organic and non, tested for GMOs. The 365 brand is GMO free. That WFM can control. They can’t control what the other companies are doing and the damn gov’t keeps overturning any bills that would require labeling of GMO containing products. Labeling is something WFM has been pushing for years and years. No dice.

    When the vast majority of corn, soy and canola are GMO the vast majority of products containing those items are GMO. That’s the simple truth. WFM NEVER said they were GMO-free because they can’t. No one can say 100% that they sell nothing GMO without having every item certified via tests.



  • Be careful of Whole Foods! They once sold a “vegan” muffin in their self service bakery case that had honey and eggs!

  • How FUNNY! Hahahaha!

  • When shopping for vegan products, I usually put down anything that is labeled “May contain: ” as a precaution – just so I don’t run into any sort of problems.

    Especially with the manufacturing of products, rarely are conveyor belts cleaned between usage. I would hate to be ingesting anything that can be cross-contaminated. (It’s happened to me before. Fun fact: food poisoning is not the best feeling in the world.)

  • Thanks Le,

    You provided the missing piece to the puzzle that let us track down where the error was introduced into the system.

    See the update from 02/03/11.

    Mr. W

  • I went to Whole Foods over the weekend (02/06/11) and they STILL had the gummy bears out with the wrong label… At the same location I bought them, a week after they knew they were mislabeled…

    Whole Foods Fail!

    Mr. W

  • Not surprising!

  • Unless it says on the top or front package that it’s Vegan, I never believe it’s vegan. I kind of assumed it wasn’t because they taste just like the gummy bears I use to bye at the corner liquor store as a kid. Apparently they stopped selling them, I went to 3 different Whole Food Stores and they took them completely off the counter. Haven’t seen the gummy bears for the past month. 🙁

  • YUK!!

    Thanks for the heads up!

    I tried those little bears months ago, and the texture
    was rubbery, fake-tasting, and such a turn off. No wonder.

    I was eating gelatin, and did not realize it!
    Thanks Sir Wishbone, and much obliged!

    Talk about ignorant, sloppy, misrepresentation!

  • Thanks for mentioning this.. Unfortunately a lot of Whole Foods stuff seem clueless about what Vegan really is. Here in South Beach at the Whole Foods they offer Vegan Pizza. They normally use Daiya, but I thought I saw the employee using another shredded cheese. He was using some soy cheese which had casein in it. I let him know, but I was angry.

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