MONEY Scams

5 Ways You’re Being Duped by Food & Drink Labels

Whiskey barrels
William Baker—Alamy

Think that "natural" food you're buying is made without artificial ingredients? Think again.

You might think that labels describing products as “local,” “craft,” and “natural” indeed mean that they’re local, craft, and natural. To a disturbing degree these days, you’d be wrong. Here are five examples of how food and drink labels can be vague, meaningless, or downright fraudulent, and how consumers are being duped as a result.

Liquor That’s “Local” and “Craft”
In a story about the emerging small-batch craft liquor trend, the Denver Post recently asked an interesting question: “Ever wonder how a brand-new distiller is offering 8-year-old whiskey?”

The answer is that the new company is buying the hooch, typically from an industrial factory in another state like Kentucky or Indiana. The truth is that often, according to the Denver Post investigation, the packaging and marketing of supposedly hand-crafted, locally produced whiskeys, vodkas, and bourbons are the only things actually concocted by the company on the label. In related news, a class-action lawsuit in Iowa against the makers of Templeton Rye whiskey received approval to proceed this week; the suit alleges that consumers were tricked into believing the product was made in Iowa when in fact it was made in an Indiana factory.

Critics say that most of the rapidly growing legions of new players in the craft liquor space are mere marketers, not manufacturers, and that they intentionally mislead buyers into thinking the booze is made in-house. Sometimes the language on labels is an indication—the words “produced by” rather than “distilled by” may be a giveaway that the brand doesn’t make its own product—while other times the labels are even more vague or simply false, and the hope is that no one really unearths the truth.

Thankfully, authentic craft liquor makers tend to be geeky types who dwell on every last detail of production and happily run through the process step by step on websites and tours. If you’re unsure about a brand and want to know more about how the product came to be, all you likely have to do is ask.

“Local” Farmers Markets
When you buy, say, kale at a farmers market, it’s reasonable to assume the kale is grown at the farm whose representatives are doing the selling. But perhaps you shouldn’t jump to such conclusions.

One apprentice who worked farmers’ markets for his employer in New England explained in a confession published by Modern Farmer that he was unknowingly selling kale that came from a farm in Georgia. The New England farm was also passing off Canadian asparagus and California salad greens as its own “local” produce at farmers markets. The confessor confronted his boss about the produce of questionable origins, and “he said that not all of it was coming from the farm, that some of it was coming from other farms, and I asked was it coming from local farms and he said some of it was not.”

Previous investigations, in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Detroit, revealed pretty much the same: farmers passing off produce from somewhere far away as home grown and local.

“Natural” Foods
More and more, American consumers say that eating healthier diets is important to them. According to the 2014 Food & Health Survey, taste and price are be the two biggest reasons people purchase food and beverages (listed by 90% and 73% of consumers, respectively), but the healthfulness of what’s put inside one’s body is catching up as a key factor: 71% said it was very important, compared with 61% in 2012.

Quite naturally, many of these health-minded consumers are likely to be drawn to foods labeled as “natural.” There’s just one problem: The word means pretty much … nothing. Consumer Reports found that three out of five consumers check specifically for “natural” products, “despite there being no federal or third-party verified label for this term.” And this summer, the consumer advocacy group decided to do something about the fact that millions are seemingly being misled into believing the term “natural” only applies to foods that are made without pesticides, artificial ingredients, or genetically modified organisms.

“Due to overwhelming and ongoing consumer confusion around the natural food label, we are launching a new campaign to kill the natural label because our poll underscores that it is misleading, confusing, and deceptive,” Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center, said in a statement in July. “We also don’t believe it is necessary to define natural when there is already another label—organic—that comes much closer to meeting consumer expectations and is accompanied by legal accountability.”

Any Kind of Fish You’re Buying
An alarming study released last year by the nonprofit group Oceana showed that the mislabeling of seafood sold in restaurants, sushi shops, and supermarkets happens all the time. In a study covering 21 states around the country, one-third of all samples were listed as the wrong kind of fish—the “snapper” turned out to be rockfish, for instance. Restaurants in northern California misidentified fish in a whopping 58% of the samples taken, while Pennsylvania was the worst state overall, with 56% of the seafood in grocery stores and restaurants turning out to be something other than what was listed on menus and pricing labels.

Meanwhile, a series of Boston Globe stories that predate the Oceana study also showed that restaurants and supermarkets routinely mislabel the seafood they sell. Investigators followed up that analysis with another study indicating that shoppers were regularly paying too much for seafood in supermarkets because the fish weight (and therefore, price) was inflated thanks to ice being factored in during the weighing process. In all likelihood, this means that some consumers have been charged excessively for seafood for two separate reasons—because of ice skewing the true amount they were paying for, and because they were duped into thinking they were getting a pricier kind of fish.

“Craft” Beer
Blue Moon, Shock Top, and Goose Island are beer brands that claim to be authentic craft beers, and many consumers assume that’s what they’re getting. Yet all three brands are owned by the world’s two biggest brewing companies—MillerCoors for the first two, and AnheuserBusch InBev in the case of Goose Island. In other words, these brews fall under the domain of the same companies manufacturing and marketing Coors Light and Budweiser, brands that are as mass-market and non-craft as you can get.

Amid the rapidly growing craft beer craze, it’s understandable that bigger companies would try to cash in on the trend by selling brews that appear to be made with personal care and “small batch” appeal. Just as understandably, the independent craft beer community, as embodied by the Colorado-based Brewers Association, has taken umbrage at the way that multinational corporations are trying to stealthily pass off mass-produced “crafty” beers as true craft product.

Related:
That Craft Beer You’re Drinking Isn’t Craft Beer. Do You Care?
The Demise of BK’s ‘Satisfries’ and the Sad History of ‘Healthy’ Fast Food

MONEY Food & Drink

Your 4 Favorite Things to Eat & Drink Are Getting More Expensive

Stack of steaks
Karen To—Getty Images

It's as if the powers that be are conspiring against the Ron Swansons of the world: Prices for coffee, beef, bacon, and whiskey are all on the rise.

Man’s man Ron Swanson, the wonderfully mustachioed anti-government government worker on “Parks and Recreation,” played by Nick Offerman, is known for his love of meat, whiskey, and breakfast. The fictional Swanson—and anyone who can identify with the character’s taste—will certainly not love what’s happening to the prices of some of his beloved food and drinks.

Coffee
On Tuesday, Starbucks raised prices on some coffee drinks, and bags of Starbucks coffee sold in supermarkets will be more expensive soon too. Medium and large-size coffees saw prices hikes of 10¢ and 15¢, respectively, while a bag of Starbucks beans will be about $1 more in the near future.

Starbucks joins coffee giants such as J.M. Smuckers, maker of brands Folgers and Dunkin’ Donuts bagged coffee, and Kraft Food Groups (Maxwell House), as well as Dunkin’ Donuts stores themselves, which have all recently increased prices or announced plans to do so this summer. The price hikes are being blamed on a drought in Brazil that will reduce the global supply of coffee beans.

Bacon
In addition to coffee, the price of another staple on the American breakfast table is on the rise: beloved bacon. At the beginning of 2014, word started spreading of a pig virus that was decimating the pig population on North American farms—and that would likely cause a surge in bacon prices down the line.

As any bacon lover who pays close attention to supermarket prices can attest, the increase is now in full effect. Industry publication Burger Business noted that the average retail price for a pound of bacon at the supermarket reached $6.05 recently, an 18.8% rise compared with May 2013.

Beef
Beef prices have been on a tear for months, largely as a result of a long drought and soaring demand. Thanks to a shrinking supply of cattle, according to Bloomberg News, ground beef prices are at a record high, after rising 76% since 2009.

Prices for all cuts of steak have been soaring as well, which has translated not only to higher grocery bills for shoppers, but pricier menus at steakhouses and fast food establishments. Chipotle, McDonald’s, and In-N-Out Burger have all hiked menu prices recently as a response to broader trends in the cattle industry.

Whiskey
After the reality of all of those price hikes sets in, you’re going to need a drink. Appropriately, it too will cost more in the near future if your drink of choice is whiskey.

A bourbon shortage and the merger of two global giants in whiskey are among the reasons that prices of the popular spirit are expected to head skyward, and soon.

TIME Food & Drink

This Iowa Distillery Is Raising Whiskey-Flavored Pigs

Getty Images

Iowa's Templeton Rye Distillery has ramped things upin the bourbon-flavored bacon arena by trying to raise pigs that actually taste like whiskey already, feeding a porcine fleet with a special diet of distillery grains

The only thing that makes the distinct flavors of whiskey and pork better is combining them. That’s why we have bacon-infused bourbon, Jack Daniel’s-glazed pork chops, and so on.

But the good people at Iowa’s Templeton Rye Distillery decided to take this very, very literally by attempting to breed pigs that already taste like whiskey. Yes. Really. Whiskey-flavored pigs.

They bought 25 purebred Duroc pigs, known for their high-quality meat, with the sole intention of giving them Templeton’s signature flavor. No, this does not mean they’ve been feeding the pigs whiskey. Instead, the pigs on are on a special diet that incorporates the dry distillery grain from the whiskey-making process into the feed, Iowa’s WQAD reports. (The distillery has a detailed breakdown of the pigs’ diet and feeding schedule here.)

The whiskey-pigs will be ready for slaughter in June, available to restaurants or to boozy-bacon loving individuals. We can only assume Ron Swanson is somehow involved in all this.

TIME Food & Drink

Bourbon Shortage Has Whiskey Industry Over a Barrel

Buffalo Trace Distillery
Buffalo Trace Distillery

Buffalo Trace, a 228-year-old distillery in Kentucky, has issued a statement that bourbon shortages show no signs of letting up anytime soon. But before long, it will be consumers who pay the price as demand continues to outpace supply

In what will come as no surprise to whiskey enthusiasts, Buffalo Trace issued a statement on Thursday declaring that bourbon shortages show no signs of abating for the foreseeable future. The spirit’s unprecedented popularity has created a growing demand that the current supply is utterly incapable of matching. For the time being, Buffalo Trace — a 228-year-old distillery in Frankfort, K.Y. — will continue to supply all markets monthly allocations of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and Blanton’s each moth, as well as continue the annual release of its super-premium whiskeys, including Pappy Van Winkle, every fall.

Though the impact of the shortage may not immediately be felt by the average consumer, trouble is on the horizon. Specific conditions much be met in order for a whiskey to be classified as bourbon, most notably that the spirit must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. According to The Spirits Business, the industry has been experiencing a shortfall in necessary lumber for the last six months. Add to that a growing interest amongst drinkers — both in the U.S. and around the world — in aged bourbon, and a shortage is the only logical outcome.

While there is little danger of bourbon disappearing from store shelves entirely, a shortage could either inspire distillers to age their bourbon for a shorter period of time (thereby losing less of the product to evaporation) or, more likely, raise prices on the bourbon they already produce. Either scenario would prove costly for distillers and consumers alike.

TIME Food & Drink

Maple Water Is Having a Moment

Courtesy Vertical Water

Because coconut water is so last year.

From maple-infused whiskies to maple doughnuts and desserts, the sweet, caramel-colored syrup clearly has a devoted following. But maple isn’t all about the syrup anymore. Now several companies are bringing their maple water to U.S. store shelves this spring.

Maple syrup is really boiled sap from a sugar maple tree. The new maple waters from Seva, Vertical Water and Drink Maple use pure maple sap, which is water from the ground that has been filtered as it travels up the tree trunk and gets infused with sugar, calcium, potassium, magnesium and manganese along the way. (It’s still at least 95% water.)

Drinking maple sap is nothing new — it’s long been considered a tonic among native Americans and some East Asians — but packaging it and bringing it to consumers in the U.S. is. To do so, the fresh sap gets processed so it’s shelf stable for up to a year, the Cornell Chronicle reports.

Courtesy Drink Maple

Sounds tasty, but wouldn’t maple water be too sweet? Not really. Seva, which taps sugar maples in Quebec’s Laurentian Forest, says each cup of its organic maple water has less than a teaspoon of sugar and just 20 calories — about half of what’s in coconut water.

The tree water, which sells for about $2.50 to $4 a bottle, opens up a sweet world of culinary possiblities as well when substituted for regular water in popsicles and ice cubes or used to steep tea leaves.

TIME drinking

How to Drink Scotch Whisky

It may not be everyone’s cup of whisky, but if sales are any indication, Scotch is more popular worldwide than ever before.

Scotch sales have nearly doubled over the past ten years to roughly $7 billion, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. The United States is the world’s leading importer of the drink, buying nearly $1.32 billion worth of the spirit each year. The drink can legally be called Scotch only if it’s made in Scotland and aged in oak casks for at least three years.

And note that it’s also spelled “whisky,” without the e, to differentiate from popular American-style “whiskeys,” such as Jack Daniels or George Dickel.

But the real test comes with the tasting. TIME’s Josh Sanburn met up with Richard Patterson, Master Distiller of The Dalmore, to learn the proper way to enjoy fine Scotch.

TIME Pope Francis

Pope Francis Greets Queen Elizabeth In Vatican

The Queen And Duke Of Edinburgh Visit Rome And The Vatican City
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, have an audience with Pope Francis, during their one-day visit to Rome on April 3, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Oli Scarff—Getty Images

Last week, Obama gave the Pope seeds. Today, the Queen gave him whiskey

A highly anticipated meeting between Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth was held on Thursday afternoon in the Vatican, where the two world leaders exchanged words and gifts in person for the first time. The pair met for half an hour, including 17 minutes in private.

Last week, President Obama gave Francis a chest filled with seeds from fruits and vegetables used in the White House garden. But the Queen one-upped the American leader during her visit, presenting the Pope with whiskey and venison. Francis was the fifth Pope with whom Queen Elizabeth has met during her fifty-year reign. This trip marks the first foreign trip for the British monarch in three years.

TIME Whiskey Wars

Liquor Giant Sues Tennessee Over Whiskey Storage Law

George Dickel Whisky on display at the George Dickel Experience during Meatopia, Nov. 3, 2013, in San Antonio.
George Dickel Whisky on display at the George Dickel Experience during Meatopia, Nov. 3, 2013, in San Antonio. Darren Abate—AP Images for George Dickel

The UK-based liquor giant is suing the state over a 1937 statute, which requires a distillery to store spirits in the county or adjoining county where they were produced, and which the firm says is unconstitutional

UK-based liquor giant Diageo has sued the state of Tennessee over a nearly 80 year-old-law whiskey storage law the firm says is unconstitutional. The suit represents another volley in the so-called “Whiskey Wars” between booze makers tussling over the definition of Tennessee whiskey.

Diageo, which owns the Tennessee-based George Dickel whiskey brand, seeks to overturn a 1937 statute that requires a distillery to store spirits in the county in which they were produced or in an adjoining county, per an amendment passed last year. Diageo contends the law violates the commerce clause and 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution.

The suit is, in effect, a proxy battle in an ongoing fight between the two top whiskey producers in Tennessee, Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel, over what liquor is allowed to carry the label “Tennessee Whiskey.” Last year, Tennessee passed a law at the behest of Jack Daniel’s requiring all whiskey carrying the label to made mostly from corn, charcoal filtered and aged in unused oak barrels—which happens to be the recipe for Jack Daniel’s whiskey, by far the biggest whiskey producer in the state. Diageo-owned George Dickel spearheaded an as-yet unsuccessful campaign to repeal the law.

Though the lawsuit marks an escalation there may be hope for an out of court settlement. In a statement to TIME, a Diageo U.S. spokesperson said, “Based on discussions between both parties late Friday we are hopeful that we can come to a mutually agreeable solution on this matter in short order.”

TIME Whiskey

Tennessee Won’t Redefine Whiskey This Year

Jeff Arnett, the master distiller at the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., drills a hole in a barrel of whiskey in one of the aging houses at the distillery, May 20, 2009.
Jeff Arnett, the master distiller at the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn., drills a hole in a barrel of whiskey in one of the aging houses at the distillery, May 20, 2009. Mark Humphrey—AP

Tennessee's state senate has killed a bill that would have changed the definition of whiskey in the state. The existing law's definition is based largely on Jack Daniel's distillation process, to the chagrin of rival distiller George Dickel and its owner, Diageo

An effort to rewrite a Tennessee law that defines the state’s whiskey based largely off Jack Daniel’s decades-old processes failed in the state senate Tuesday, despite being championed by a rival spirits producer.

Diageo, a British multinational beverage company that owns George Dickel Tennessee whiskey, pushed legislators to revisit the law, which passed last year at the urging of Jack Daniel’s, by far the biggest whiskey producer in the state. The 2013 law mandates that any spirit called Tennessee Whiskey must be stored in new charred oak barrels and filtered through charcoal, as Jack Daniel’s is. Diageo argued that the guidelines are too restrictive and hinder experimentation, giving Jack Daniel’s—owned by Louisville, Ky.-based Brown-Forman—an unfair advantage.

Loosening the restrictions appeared to have momentum, but on Tuesday, Republican State Sen. Mark Green moved the bill to a summer study committee, killing its chances of passing this year.

“I think it’s time we stop debating about making good whiskey and get back to making good whiskey,” says Brown-Forman Senior Vice President Jim O’Malley, adding that he believes the reason the bill died in committee is because it didn’t have the support of a majority of craft distillers. Tennessee Whiskey was one of the last segments of the spirits market that didn’t have a codified definition similar to bourbon or cognac, and O’Malley says the law benefits all Tennessee distillers because it ensures a high-quality product.

Diageo, however, viewed the move to the study committee as a small win.

“The Tennessee legislature has done the right thing and now, rather than having one company dictate for everyone, we can do this the right way and come together in an open forum to discuss how to create the best standards for Tennessee Whiskey,” Guy Smith, executive vice president of Diageo, said in a statement.

TIME Food and Beverage

Everything You Need to Know About Jack Daniel’s and the Fight Over Tennessee Whiskey

A guide to the local booze battle with international ramifications

Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel, the two best known makers of Tennessee Whiskey, are locked in a heated clash over the definition of a seemingly settled matter: What, exactly, constitutes the Volunteer State’s signature hooch? As the Tennessee legislature debates the terms, TIME offers this guide to the booze battle that will have consequences for whiskey drinkers around the world.

So, what’s the fight all about?

Last year, Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill that for the first time codified the process of making Tennessee Whiskey. Among other mandates, it required that anything labeled as such be filtered through maple charcoal and aged in new charred oak barrels. Not coincidentally, that’s the way Jack Daniel’s — by far the biggest producer of Tennessee Whiskey — has been making its spirit since the 1870s.

Unsurprisingly, Brown-Forman, the Louisville-based company that produces Jack Daniel’s, was a fan of the law. Phil Lynch, a Brown-Forman spokesman, says the company pushed the legislature to define the whiskey-making process after seeing a number of new distilleries open across the state in the last few years.

U.K.-based Diageo, which owns George Dickel— the distant second best-selling Tennessee Whiskey — didn’t share Brown-Forman’s enthusiasm and it lobbied the legislature to repeal the state requirements. According to the Associated Press, State Rep. Bill Sanderson introduced the measure to change the law after prodding from Diageo.

But that doesn’t make sense. Isn’t Dickel produced similarly to Jack?

Yes, Dickel is every bit a Tennessee Whiskey as state law currently defines it.

Then why do they want the law overturned?

Depends whom you ask. Diageo says the regulations are unreasonable because they force distillers to conform to a single style, limiting creativity and protecting Jack Daniel’s hold on the market.

“We think that’s unfair to George Dickel and unfair to the distilling industry,” says Barry Becton, Diageo’s senior director of state government relations. “People have made Tennessee Whiskey a certain way but without strict standards for years. Jack Daniel’s just wanted to change the rules to prevent competition.”

Becton argues that the government shouldn’t be in the business of telling distillers how to make their whiskey and says his company, an international liquor behemoth, is waging the fight on behalf of smaller Tennessee distilleries.

That’s mighty generous of them. Is that the only reason?

Not quite. Brown-Forman has been doing very well in the last few years. Its third-quarter profits increased 12% year-over-year, largely due to Jack’s brand recognition and new offerings capitalizing on it like Tennessee Honey and Winter Jack. The Jack Daniel’s brand has seen 10% net sales growth over the last fiscal year as American whiskies have exploded globally and cut into other segments of the spirits market, including Scotch. Diageo, which owns Johnnie Walker Scotch but does not have a large portfolio of American whiskey, is keen to limit Jack’s growth.

“Diminishing Jack Daniel’s overseas strengthens Diageo’s position over there,” says Jeremy Edwards, the lead analyst for IBIS World and an expert in the spirit industry.

What does Jack Daniel’s think of Diageo’s move?

About what you’d expect. “They’re full of crap when they say they’re doing this for the craft distillers,” says Brown-Forman’s Lynch. “Either they have plans with George Dickel to use used barrels or they’re concerned about the explosive growth of American whiskey infringing upon their scotch whiskey around the world, which is making serious inroads.”

What about Tennessee’s growing number of micro-distillers?

They’re divided on the law. Some support the regulations on the grounds that they help maintain a uniform style and identifiable profile for Tennessee Whiskey.

“I want Tennessee to be synonymous with quality, like champagne with France,” says Billy Kaufman, president and CEO of Short Mountain Distillery, which makes moonshine and bourbon. “But that happens only if we all agree to certain ways of making whiskey. We should be building on that tradition.”

Kaufman argues that with so many new distilleries entering the marketplace, there’s the potential for quality to diminish and tarnish the state’s brand in the eyes of whiskey drinkers. The board of the Tennessee Distillers Guild, a group of 11 small distilleries headed by Kaufman, voted on Tuesday to support the current regulations.

But not every booze maker agrees. “It’s a matter of rights,” says Prichard’s Distillery owner Phil Prichard. “Anytime somebody creates a regulation, that takes away a certain amount of freedom.”

Unlike the big Tennessee producers, Prichard doesn’t use charcoal mellowing, and when the regulations were put in place last year, state legislators exempted Prichard’s from the new mandates and allowed him to continue making Tennessee Whiskey the way he’d been distilling it since 1997.

“I should be able to make it the way I believe it should be made,” Prichard says. “Controlling the quality of Tennessee Whiskey by legislation is a fool’s folly. The state legislature isn’t the final arbiter of quality whiskey. The marketplace is.”

What does this all mean for the regulations?

On Tuesday, the Tennessee House State Government Committee heard from distillers on both sides of the issue. Republican State Rep. Bill Sanderson introduced an amendment that would repeal those mandates. The committee adopted the changes with a voice vote but pushed a final vote to next week. The Senate committee is expected to take up the issue next week.

So is this really a fight about big government?

It’s less about politics and more about what people like to drink. The American whiskey market has exploded because it’s been able to experiment with different barrel combinations and various flavors like cinnamon, honey and maple. Stricter regulations about what constitutes Tennessee Whiskey could hamper that innovation.

If passed, the new law would likely define Tennessee Whiskey as any whiskey manufactured, distilled and stored in Tennessee and do away with regulations requiring new charred oak barrels and charcoal mellowing. That could make it easier for new distilleries to get their product to market, branded as Tennessee Whiskey, while allowing for greater experimentation. And those new micro-distilleries could eventually be smart acquisitions for a company like Diageo.

“Bourbon’s adaptability when compared with Scotch [which has its own rigid production laws] is what’s provided the edge in terms of innovation in the last few years and put it in the place to spearhead the growth of the category,” says Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholic drinks analyst for Euromonitor. “I think Diageo is very worried. They want a piece of the pie, and innovation plays a role in this. Diageo is probably interested in buying some local distilleries because Scotch has been sitting on its laurels.”

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