HUGE UPDATE: BEWARE non-vegetarian “vegan” gummy bears!10February 3rd, 2011products
wow, some hardcore vegan sleuthing has gone down. we posted earlier this week on some shocking findings by mr. wishbone (you all remember him from operation pancake, right?) regarding some completely non-vegetarian gummy bears that were mislabeled as vegan at whole foods. after some digging, it appears that whole foods isn’t entirely to blame; the fault actually lies with the distributor. please read the original story here, and check out the following update from mr. wishbone:
After reading the comment from “LE” on the gummy bear post, (“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.”), I thought that if the Rainbow Acres gummy bears were from the same manufacturer/distributor then the error in labeling might not be Whole Food’s fault at all.
I went to Rainbow Acres and found two products: Agave Sweetened Gummy Bears and Vegan Agave Sweetened Fruit Slices. I spoke with the Greg at Rainbow Acres, and he was happy to provide me with their distributor’s name, telephone number and item numbers from their catalog. I asked Greg to remove the two products from his shelves until we could determine if the ingredient listings were correct. Rainbow Acres should be commended for their transparency and genuine desire to please their customers and do the right thing.
Rainbow Acres’ distributor for the gummy products was Nature’s Best (714)255-4600, I called and spoke with their customer service department asking about the gummy manufacturer. The item codes were 887-356 (Bears) and 887-372 (Fruit Slices) under the brand name “Royal”. The name of the manufacturer is A C Calderoni.
I called A C Calderoni (866)468-1897 and I spoke with Scott who was very helpful and understood our concerns. He read me the full ingredient listings for both products, and confirmed that the Fruit Slices contained vegan ingredients, but that the Gummy Bears did include Gelatin, Lactic Acid, and Purple Berry Concentrate.
Scott outlined how his products are sent to retail establishments through grocery distributors (such as Nature’s Best) and said that the U.S. was split up into regions with different distributors handling different states. Here in California and the west in general he mentioned Nature’s Best and Marin Specialty Foods, in Colorado he mentioned Rocky Mountain Foods, and said in the east UNFI came to mind.
Each manufacturer gives an ingredient statement for items that are bulk packaged to the distributor. Each local market (Whole Foods, Rainbow Acres, etc) receives an ingredient listing from the distributor and copies that onto the private label for the retail packages. So if the distributor omits any information when creating their own ingredient statement, the manufacturer might never know ingredients are missing from the label. Retailers such as Whole Foods Market and Rainbow Acres also wouldn’t know either if they relied on the distributor’s ingredient statement instead of the manufacturer’s ingredient statement.
I called back to Nature’s Best and spoke with customer service again (a representative named Esmie), told her that I had spoken with the manufacturer and that there must be an error in the ingredient listing. Esmie went to the manufacturer’s website and read me the ingredients correctly, with the Gelatin, Lactic Acid and Purple Berry Concentrate. I then asked her to compare those ingredients with the label they provide to retailers like Rainbow Acres, but she had no way to view the label or ingredient statement they provide. I asked her to notify her employer Nature’s Best of the discrepancy and correct the labels.
So it appears that many retail outlets may have these same bears for sale under their private label without the Gelatin, Lactic Acid, and Purple Berry Concentrate on the ingredient label for now.
I also went to the A C Calderoni website to confirm the ingredient statements and I was surprised to find that someone must have copied the Agave Sweetened Fruit Slices text onto the Agave Sweetened Gummy Bears ingredient listings page as it had the words “They are vegan (no animal ingredients)” despite having the animal ingredient gelatin. I will call Scott later today and tell him of the error, but I do not think it was the reason for the confusion with Whole Foods Market and Rainbow Acres as the actual ingredient listing below that text was correct.
Here are photos from www.accalderoni.com for both packages:
I wish Whole Foods Market had been as forthcoming and caring as the folks at Rainbow Acres, Nature’s Best, and A C Calderoni as they each tried their best to help me figure out where the error had been introduced into the system, whereas Whole Foods just sent me the “we were wrong, we’ll change it” email with the nasty signature line previously mentioned.
Scott at A C Calderoni also said they were working on a vegan gummy bear without gelatin, using something other than pectin and was excited that they were very close to the texture of the original gelatin gummy bears. Perhaps a chewy vegan gummy bear is in our future…
i don’t know about you guys, but i feel totally burned by this situation! if it sounds too good to be true, it just might be. thank goodness for mr. wishbone’s detective work. BE CAREFUL when reading those labels.Tags: dessert, not vegan, sweets
Thank you for doing this!! I think I have had the agave-sweetened fruit slices from my local co-op. I am relieved they are truly vegan, yet the bears mislabel mess just brings more awareness to trust your instinct. You have done this and it benefits all vegans/vegetarians … Thanks again for putting the work behind this investigation.
Wow! Amazing work!
Maybe this is a stupid question, but what’s wrong with purple berry concentrate?
Nothing except it was left out of the ingredient listing. (Unless you are allergic to purple berries…)
I was considering buying some Haig’s brand packaged muhammara at Whole Foods (it’s packaged like hummus and is ground walnuts, pomegranate and roasted red peppers). So I check the ingredients list and one of the ingredients is “bread crumbs” – that’s it, no further breakdown of what’s in those bread crumbs. That can’t really be legal to list that as an ingredient that way, can it? How the hell is anybody supposed to know if those bread crumbs contain egg or dairy? Drives me nuts when people break the labeling laws, and omit or mislabel stuff, but it seems to happen way too often.
The Haig’s products are all vegan per the FAQ on their website at: http://www.haigsdelicacies.com/faqs/
“Q: Are your products vegetarian/vegan?
A: Yes. Our products are completely vegetarian and vegan.”
Often in these situations you can look for a Vegan logo or other statement. If none is present and you have your iphone with you and want to start searching the web while you are standing in front of the cold foods case at WFM you can google the product for additional ingredient information. (I know what a hassle).
I’d write them and ask for clarification on the label/package somewhere. Here’s their address:
or mail to: Haig’s Delicacies (Attn: Rita) 642 Clement Street San Francisco, CA 94118. If you do you’ll probably get some coupons for your trouble.
Trying to eat a vegan diet is all about label reading, questioning servers & chefs, and not buying the product until you are reasonably sure it is animal-free, but as you can see it’s still quite a challenge so just do your best!
It’s tough being a vegan without a smartphone sometimes.
Thanks for all the detailed info, really appreciate it.
And I will be reading labels much more carefully.
Thanks so much for that info. I am a big label reader and iphone checker in front of the cold case at many supermarkets throughout the greater Los Angeles area. It was after hours when I was there or I definitely would have called. So I just called now and they couldn’t have been nicer. They told me it’s high gluten wheat flour, barley flour, water, yeast, salt and ascorbic acid. I guess I was just surprised by whoever made that label thinking they could legally just write “bread crumbs” instead of breaking it down further. I am glad to see that it really is a vegan product, though I suppose if I were a gluten-free person it would have been an unpleasant surprise not to have something like that on the label.
At least it had a label so many times I find packaged restaurant items at a grocery store with no ingredients list whatsoever. I even googled the law on this and it seems to be that if it’s prepared offsite it requires a list of ingredients and nutrition facts. (I like the California Vegan satay a lot but although their Orange Chicken looks like it wants so desperately to taste good in my mouth, I have not figured out a way to heat it where the batter doesn’t get rubbery. And at $6.99 a container I’ve given up experimenting! (P.S. thanks for the effort you put into your site — I don’t know how I could be a vegan in LA without it!)
That sounds like the title of a country song. (Okay, maybe in twenty years, if the world goes our way.)