Kroger decides organic confusion is the way to go

So, yesterday I grab the mail, start sorting it and notice a huge Fred Meyer flier.  Fred Meyer is our local Kroger store here in PDX and we shop there often. Here’s the flier below…

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The flier states:

What’s the easiest way to enjoy all natural and organic? Keep it Simple. Naturally Preferred and Private Selection Organic are switching to Simple Truth. So now you can look for one name when picking up your favorite all-natural and organic products. It’s just that simple.

Really Kroger? Does this seem like an awesome idea?

NO. As soon as I saw the flier my first thought was, “Way to confuse everyone.” In fact, here’s a timely example. We almost always buy organic eggs. Now, I won’t buy factory farmed store-brand milk, but we do usually buy Kroger store brand certified organic eggs, because they cost less than other organic eggs.

Anyhow, Dave (the live-in boyfriend), went to the store the other day for groceries, including eggs, and he came home with these:

kroger organics, kroger natural, natural food, organic food, organic labels, natural food label, green family, greenwashing, food labels, reading food labels

At first glace, I figured Kroger changed their organic packaging. At second glance, I noticed the eggs were in fact NOT organic, but “natural.” So I ask Dave about it and he says, “OMG I got them in the natural section right by the other organic eggs, where we always get them.” When discussed further, it turns out that Dave meant to get organic as per usual, but failed due to the new confusing packaging. It’s hard to blame him though.

Example of new confusing packaging:

kroger organics, kroger natural, natural food, organic food, organic labels, natural food label, green family, greenwashing, food labels, reading food labels

As you can see, the new organic and natural packaging choices are almost 100% interchangeable. Plus ALL their organic and Naturally Preferred products are making the switch so everything will look identical. If you know to look for the USDA Organic Seal, you’ll do better with this new packaging. Of course Kroger did decide to use little green circles on their natural packaging too – little green circles that look like an organic seal if you look fast – which seems like blatant greenwashing to me.

Their wording on their flier is also super misleading. For example, they note, “What’s the easiest way to enjoy all natural and organic?” and “Look for one name when picking up your favorite all-natural and organic products.” Notice how they’ve used “all natural” and “organic” in one fast swoop, twice, making it seem as if the terms are one and the same?

First of all, in case you didn’t know, the USDA does not recognize the term or label “natural” as an official term. Although natural is a hot buzz word right now, it’s almost entirely meaningless. The term is completely unregulated and natural isn’t so natural because many so called natural products contain synthetic ingredients.

Organic” on the other hand is a regulated term. If a product carries the organic seal, no that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, however, you are getting a product with fewer pesticides and zero artificial colors or flavors. Plus, you’re supporting planet-healthy agriculture.

Why the switch?

I’m not sure to what end Kroger decided that this change would be useful to their customers. It honestly seems to me as if they’re intentionally trying to trick people into buying natural over organic. That makes no sense. Not only is organic safer for people, but it costs more, which should make Kroger more $. The only thing I can think of is that Kroger is merging out their organic grocery choices – which also makes zero sense. 

On one hand, Kroger may not confuse as many people as I’m guessing. A recent survey shows that consumers don’t trust “natural” food labels. On the flip side though, other past research has shown that many consumer are already confused by all the food labels out there, so the odds of getting real organics over non-organics becomes sketchy.

In any case, I’m extremely annoyed with this change. I’m not on board with any labeling plan that makes it harder for consumers to navigate already crazy confusing food labeling issues. If you’re annoyed too, below is a post that may help.

What do you think of the new Kroger natural / organic packaging shenanigans? Let me know in the comments.
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  1. DramaMama says

    Ridiculous. I have noticed similar type tactics w/other stores. They seem so proud of themselves for having a natural brand and they throw around the buzz words just like you said. I do think that for some people who find change hard, this is their out. “I can’t afford organic, and this is natural, so that’s good enough, right?” They get to feel like they are doing better than some people and they literally buy into this tactic. I don’t think those people really believe (as people like you or I) that there could be something wrong w/these tactics, these companies and their policies or the food. On another note, since this is about eggs, have you thought about getting chickens? I never thought we could, or that I would be able to handle it, but we have been getting 2 eggs a day for 2 weeks now and it is awesome! Just a thought. =)

  2. Jennifer Chait says

    Yeah, I saw something like this at Safeway too – although I’m not totally sure, because we rarely shop there. I have seen “natural” foods at most stores, but most stores don’t put those natural foods in identical packaging to their organics either. That’s just plain shifty. Plus, until natural is actually regulated, it’s not worth much anyhow.

    I agree with you about people feeling better about natural if they can’t afford organic, but honestly, organic isn’t that expensive if you only buy the foods you need vs. want. Natural still costs more than conventional, but has nothing backing it up, so people may as well save their money and get conventional in that case.

    Chickens! Yikes. I’m not a pet person – sea monkeys would be as close as I get. Plus, I kill houseplants without even trying, so chickens aren’t the best ideas for me. BUT they’re so cute and I do like the idea of home-grown eggs. I’ve been reading some stuff about it, for a maybe post, and it seems kind of complicated. Legal-wise. That’s cool it’s working for you though :)

  3. Lynn says

    Luckily I’m leaving to work out now because honestly, reading this sent my blood pressure through the roof. I’ll bet any amount of money this entire thing was a well-planned way to scam people. Come on a GREEN CIRCLE??? Even a green SQUARE would have helped lessen the confusion. These companies are well-oiled machines that pay BIG bucks to their marketing companies who come up with these ridiculous ideas. The only way around it is to make a big stink. Hmmm, need to come up with a clever FB page or Twitter ID…Kroger Greenwashing champ??? Off to cool down by working out!

  4. Jennifer Chait says

    @Lynn – I know! The green circle is so pushing it. Even I thought it was the seal when I just glanced at it quickly, and organics is pretty much all I write about day in and day out. If it’s confusing to people in my house, it must be confusing other people too. I have no clue why Kroger would do this – I agree that marketing is probably at fault. I can just see the meeting, “Here’s a way to get people to buy our natural brand.” Although, again, organics bring in more $ so, what the heck? Why send people away from organics?

  5. Lynn says

    OK, I’m breathing easier now that I’m back, but I think I will write to Kroger and draw their attention to the issue.

    One reason I can think of to put the damper on organics is because maybe the stores don’t make as much from them even though they sell for more? Or maybe it’s a pain to stock organics and they’re trying to cut down on dealing with smaller companies. Or some marketing guy came up with the idea and no one thought to look into it. Most likely the latter.

    Let’s see if I can get any kind of response from Kroger. Will definitely let you know.


  6. Jennifer says

    Honestly I am not going to complain about that little difference… who’s to say they did that on purpose and not just to save money on packaging?? I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have people “venting” about something like this when really Fred Meyers has done a great thing by providing these cage free UEP certified eggs! That is what matters here… yes you may have to double check your carton, but feel better knowing that your eggs are coming from where they do and not a chicken farm that has rotting hens in the cages because they are so packed in they don’t find them right away, or dying from a disease while still producing eggs because they are refused medical help.
    Sorry I know you may have a valid point, but to make this big of a deal about it when really there are much more things in the egg / store markets we need to worry about.
    For example watch this…

  7. Jame says

    I bought Naturally Preferred 1% Milk for two reasons: first, I believed that this milk came from cows that were ethically treated, and second, it tasted really good. Now it’s been taken off the shelves and replaced with a product about which I can’t find significant information. I haven’t tried the Simple Truth brand, but the name alone inspires doubt. That green circle is really a red flag.

  8. Jennifer Chait says

    @Jennifer – a little difference is a HUGE deal when it comes to greenwashing. UEP eggs have a horrid history and are in no way ethically produced. The UEP just now decided to work with the Humane Society of the United States to enact better legislation surrounding hen raising, but it’s only proposed legislation, not on the books. As of now, organic is the only way to go, or no eggs at all, if you want better, actually regulated animal treatment. Tricking consumers is a big deal in my book. It’s up to larger organizations to educate consumers about organics vs. natural, not to capitalize on the less expensive term. Read

    @Jame – Naturally Preferred Milk didn’t come from cows that were ethically treated. It came from factory farm conditions. The Kroger brand refuses to give information about their dairy brand to Cornucopia, and based on industry sources, their milk is mostly factory farmed. Because it’s organic, it’s better than conventional factory farmed but not by much. To find an actual ethical dairy read this or check out the dairy scorecard

  9. xoxo says

    I was just at Kroger on Main Street in Frisco Texas and I asked the fellow if they had anything in organic eggs in the case because everything said natural. He tried to tell me they were organic and was rather rude when I tried to show him the picture from this article. He then said “well then we’ll never carry organic” and “I’m sorry” as he walked away, with no sincerity. I then went to talk to the manager, and a young assistant manager came to talk with me and he was not all that pleasant either. He called up another person who brought eggs with an organic label. The employees (includes the manager) seemed confused and kept telling me it’s the packaging that changed. I tried to let them know that to be organic it has to say organic, not all natural. It would be nice if the Kroger employees at least understood their products and packaging – being polite would be nice too.

  10. Jennifer Chait says

    That’s way too bad, but not totally surprising. Kroger, among other stores used to give me so much grief over reusable bags. Not so much now, because they’ve cut paper and encourage reusable, but man, before they decided green was good clerks were so rude to me. The organic issue is really annoying though. If someone works in the natural section or is a manager, they absolutely should know what’s what about the products they carry. Glad you stood up and said something though – that’s at least proactive in an annoying situation.

  11. Rockieroad says

    I am soooo mad that Kroger/Ralphs have taken Naturally Preferred brand organic milk off the shelves and replaced it with this Simple Truth brand. Naturally Preferred milk tasted superior to this new brand that they are trying to push to us consumers. The Naturally Preferred brand was much creamier and richer (it reminded me of the way milk use to taste back when I was a kid). I preferred this over other top name brands such as Knudsen, Alta Dena, and Swiss Brands. This new crap that they are now selling is so water downed. I just refuse to purchase this brand. I am so disappointed that I am no longer able to buy this brand anywhere, or find something that even comes close in taste.

  12. Free Range says

    For those who are concerned about their eggs – the practices, where they come from and whether they live up to standards – I recommend the Cornucopia Institute site. They have score cards. Sadly, none of the Private Label Brands will cooperate with site and disclose any info, which always makes me suspicious. If an egg company has something to hide then I don’t need to support them:

  13. Jennifer Chait says

    Agreed, Cornucopia is an excellent resource. I’ve linked to them countless times from this blog. I especially recommend their dairy scorecard. Private Labels won’t disclose on that one either :(

  14. wellness woRx says

    You have to just be careful. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. At least they are getting rid of 101 chemical additives that cause all sorts of diseases and I wish other stores would too. Organic is the next step, but the natural products are a start. Don’t be upset if you are organic, remember some people do need this stepping stone and education to whole truth.

  15. jen11 says

    My partner just came home with “natural” chicken with this “Simple Truth” (ha!!!) label.

    We ONLY ever purchase ORGANIC chicken. I laughed at her for making such a ‘dumb’ mistake …”how did you think this was organic?” i asked. She pointed out all the ‘green’ on the label along with the ‘natural’ ‘no antibiotics ever’ ‘fed vegetarian diet etc’. ‘You thought it was organic because there was green on the label?’ I continued to laugh. She said it was in the same place as they put organic chicken usually.

    Curious about the “no antibiotics ever” claim, which is different from the usual “raised without the use of antibiotics” which i commonly see on Organic chicken… I did a search and found your article.

    Seeing that she was not the only one fooled, and your helpful picture that points out how they have used clever design to deceive busy shoppers, I suddenly had a lot more sympathy for her mistake. She was duped – and not the only person to be fooled.

    Seeing that this is a cynical way to confuse consumers and dilute use of the term organic so that they can continue to sell intensively factory farmed animal products is hugely disappointing.

    I have already started to shift away from Fred Meyers, fortunately I can purchase organic from a locally owned large grocery nearby (shout-out for Sherm’s Thunderbird!). But for folks who must rely on these national chains for access to Organic produce, this is a blow.

    Perhaps it is time to finally tackle the misleading use of the word “NATURAL” across the food industry.

  16. Jennifer Chait says

    @wellness woRx – I’m not against stepping stones to organic. What I am against is misleading, confusing terms for consumers. It’s true that Kroger has gotten rid of some icky stuff in their 101 products, but they refuse to comment on GMOs – – which is a biggie. And, their whole “truthful” labeling seems a lot less honest once you know that on top of their confusing packaging.

    @Jen11 – It’s way past the time when we should do away with “Natural” labels. There are some movements to get rid of this stupid label on food, but not enough in my opinion. Prop 37 would have gotten rid of many natural labels in CA, had it passed, but sadly it didn’t. My best advice, until we get rid of “Natural” is to refuse to buy natural products as they mean nothing and only dilute consumer knowledge. It sucks your partner was duped, but I think it’s very common with this sort of packaging problem.

  17. jen11 says

    Yes! Boycott “Natural”. Love it! … that is a genius idea! I never even thought of just not buying it… A solid boycott campaign to chip away at the “warm fuzzy” people have about the “natural” label… highlight it for the fraud that it is.

    Call it the “Natural? I don’t buy it!” campaign.

    Start the campaign! I’m in!!

  18. Jennifer Chait says

    “Natural? I don’t buy it!” – that’s actually a really awesome slogan idea. Double fold awesome. I may have to steal it, though I’d have to credit these comments. Do you have a blog Jen11?

  19. Melanie says

    Just what I thought, a cheap shot to make us THINK we are buying healthier, when it is just a ruse. Thanks for your comments, I thought it was too good to be true. I watched the Simple Truth commercial on TV last night, and only a few of the products are actually organic. So, I will continue as before, buying what I know to be organic and forget the hype.

  20. Mike says

    I got deathly ill with food poisening after eating a can of Simple Truth garbanzo beans. I was concerned and I tried to call Simple Truth, but they don’t have contact info anywhere. The best you can do is call your local Krogers, doesn’t seem very responsible to me.

  21. Kelly says

    Have any of you tried the “Simple Truth Organic” Yogurt? Well not only is awful in tast and texture it isn’t even yogurt, absolutely no live cultures at all, none, zippo. Ingredients: cultured pasteurized Organic Lowfat Milk, organic skim milk, organic corn starch, organic locust bean gum, pectin, vitamin A Palmitate and Vitamin D3

    I don’t trust the organic on this label. I mean really…cooping the word “truth”.
    I avoid buying the simple truth organic and especially natural products, and rely on the tried and true organic food producing companies.

  22. Shannon says

    My husband has done the same thing several times with the Fred Meyer “Simple” packaging, and not just with eggs. And it’s happened even though I’ve mentioned to look for the “organic” label. Not sure why FM would try and confuse the consumer on this one.

  23. If it says " natural Don't Buy it! says

    The simple Truth” chicken looked and smelled funky. I looked it up and found it was included in a recall from Foster farms…….how’s that for truth.

  24. Montgomery says

    I always read the ingredients label.

    Of course, when I can’t read it because the print is a funny color I have to ask for assistance.

    I have been tricked too many times to waste my energy on the other advertising on the package.

  25. jada says

    My boyfriend brought home those “simple truth” eggs, too. Organic, I think. The ironic thing is I’m almost positive they are dyed brown. The brown coating was peeling off when I hard boiled them. (Not that it should matter. Brown eggs aren’t any better for you than white but I think there is a perception that they are somehow more “natural”.)

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