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Friday
Sep172010

Newman's responds. Problem resolved.

[update] Once Newman's Own Organics really understood the problem, they called and emailed me to understand the situation and make it right. The last call was from Product Assistant Dory Mansfield, who gave me this background. Turns out that Newman's had known about this problem months ago but thought it was solved. It seems that the bad labels went nearly exclusively to Harris Teeter. First Newman's recalled the mislabeled oil from the warehouses. Then they asked HT to pull the oil from the store shelves. Since HT only carries the small bottles, customers couldn't get charged for the big bottles. If one slipped through, the UPC code would not be recognized at the cash register and any problem could be caught. Some smaller stores may have also gotten the mislabeled bottles and of course someone counting on getting 50 tablespoons out of that bottle would be disappointed, but the problem was largely contained.

Unfortunately, it seems that at my HT store and maybe elsewhere, not all the bottles were returned and someone "fixed" the UPC database so it recognized the code for the bigger bottle.

Newman's has contacted HT and asked its own brokers to recheck for mislabeled bottles.

My respect for Newman's Own has actually grown with this incident. They went the extra mile to make sure that their customers were treated fairly. Dory said "We take these things very seriously" and their actions show this to be true.

[original post] I just got this response from Newman's. I added the bolding:


We have reached out to our manufacturing plant and are investigating your concern.

We would like to send you either a replacement bottle of the 25.3oz size, or some of our other products (cookies, pretzels, popcorn, candy).

Should we hear from any other customers we will, of course, be offering the same type of replacement.

Thank you for making us aware of your experience. We appreciate hearing from our customers.



What to do if you think you paid for big and got small.

Don't contact Newman's if you don't have a mislabeled bottle. But if you do and you think you were overcharged, then let them make it right. Please contact their customer service department. Send them the UPC code (bar code) and the code printed on the bottle over the back label. And tell them where you bought the oil.

Friday
Sep172010

HT pulls mislabeled oil but Newman's Own stays mum. Attorney General notified.

I'm surprised and disappointed by the lack of response from Newman's Own Organics to my complaint about the label and price for the big bottle of olive oil being on the small bottle. If it was a one-time error involving "only" a few thousand bottles that they chose to handle responsibly, then why not let me know? But I have not gotten a response to my follow-up emails or phone call.

A wall of silence when a manufacturer is found mispresenting a product is not acceptable. While this problem is trivial compared to the egg debacle, it could mean that thousands of customers paid $15 for a $10 bottle of olive oil and that mislabeled bottles are still on the shelves.

And worse, it weakens the food labeling laws. The point is not to just have a random label on the product. It's to have a label that accurately informs the customer about the contents.

Grocery chain Harris Teeter is doing the right thing, though. I bought my bottle at Harris Teeter in Cameron Village. The manager (Steve) pulled the mislabeled bottles off the shelves when I notified him of the problem and has contacted HT corporate quality assurance. In a follow-up call, Steve assured me that the mislabeled bottles are no longer on the shelves at Harris Teeter.

So I've filed a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General's office. The complaint form asked me what I'd consider to be a fair resolution. Here's my response:

Newman's Own should contact the stores that might have mislabeled bottles and make sure that customers are not being overcharged or misinformed. They should offer a 50%-off coupon to people who may have been overcharged. I would like to hear their response. A wall of silence in a food-related problem is unacceptable.

Wednesday
Sep152010

Do bad labels on Newman's olive oil mean you're paying too much?

Did you pay 50% more than you should have for Newman's Own Organics Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil? You might have if you bought a 16.9 ounce bottle with the wrong label on the back: one that says it contains 50 servings.

While checking my calculations for my grocery-price spreadsheet yesterday, I noticed something very odd. Newman's Own Organics claimed to have 50 tablespoon-sized serving of olive oil in its 16.9 fl oz bottle while Whole Foods only claimed 33. Google said that Whole Foods had the math right.

I contacted Newman's Own Organics. Peggy Westenhofer, the Director of Customer Relations, wrote:

The following information in blue is from our Product Development Manager-

Our 16.9oz bottle actually states that there are about 34 servings per container.

Our 25.3oz bottle states that there are about 50 servings per container.

A serving for either size is 1 tablespoon or 15ml.

So it seems that the label with the serving size and the UPC code for a big bottle had been put on the small bottle by mistake. Since the UPC code is for the bigger bottle, it's likely that in some stores people are paying for the big bottle but getting the small one. My husband, who is a manufacturing engineer, says that it's possible that thousands of bottles were mislabeled.

Today, I checked the labels at three stores in Raleigh. Harris Teeter had Newman's Own Organics olive oil with bad labels on the shelves. The manager pulled the oil after I pointed out the problem. Harris Teeter was charging a competitive price despite the label problem, but I remember my husband being astonished by the price when he bought the bottle that kicked off this investigation. Wish I had that receipt! The labels at Whole Foods and Fresh Market were correct.

Check your label if you have this oil. If you've got a label mismatch, please leave your city and the store where you bought it in the comments.

I'll post updates here on the Cook for Good blog. I've sent this information to Peggy Westenhofer at Newmans, saying:

I respect your company's philosophy and enjoy many of your products. I can't imagine that this is anything but a mistake. But it is a mistake that may well have cost your customers a lot of money. Will you offer coupons to people who have a bottle with a certain batch number? Contact the stores to make sure that no one else will be overcharged?

Saturday
Sep112010

Market report and sauce to hide flaws


Perfect day today at the Durham Farmers' Market. Cool, slightly overcast, and not crazy crowded. It's a perfect time to make stews and chili with ripe, colorful peppers. Freeze some to enjoy when peppers cost three times as much in the winter and are tired from a long journey. Hot-weather crops such as okra, basil, and cucumbers mingle with cool season favorites such as argula and kale. Peaches mix with apples and pears.Pine Knot Farm has the best green beans of the season: not a spot on them even though they are certified organic. Add local whole-wheat flour and I'm nearly set for a week of delicious eating.

Do you mean physical sauce or metaphorical sauce? That's what I asked Matt Clayton at the Wild Scallions Farm booth this morning. He was describing the benefit dinner the farm had thrown to support Durham Central Park: sixteen people in a tiny house. He said it all worked out well, but they'd learned a lot. "We didn't have the right kind of sauce to cover up the rough edges and any flaws." Having thrown many parties too large for my house, I was intrigued. What kind of sauce would do this? How could I get some, preferably a lot of it? Would it work for flaws and rough edges in general?

Turns out Matt meant enchilada sauce, which would have masked the effects of stacking the enchiladas as part of cooking for more people than usual. This year was fun; next year will go more smoothly. I hope I can make it to their next event. And I'm looking forward to turning some of his gorgeous peppers into flaw-covering sauce this afternoon.

Wednesday
Sep012010

Sharpen and repair to save money on kitchen equipment

Sharpen. A few weeks ago, I took my kitchen knives in to be sharpened by the pros at A Southern Season. What a difference! I'm retesting and timing the recipes for my upcoming book, Wildly Affordable Organic, so I know that I'm saving minutes with chop-heavy recipes like Red Bean Chili. My hands are less tired after a big cooking session too. Sharpening three knives cost a little over $12. They are literally as sharp as new. But even with steep online discounts, a new set of knives would have cost about $200. My go-to knives are J.A. Henckels Twin Four Stars: the 3" paring knife and the 6" and 8" chef's knives. Savings: $188.

Repair. I resurrected my bread machine by getting a new paddle for it on eBay. I found the paddle plus a backup gasket for $16. The Zojirushi I've been admiring in the King Arthur Flour catalog costs $239 plus shipping. I just use the bread machine for bread and pizza dough that requires kneading, so my old Dak Auto-Bakery will keep doing the job just fine. (Don't have a bread machine? Use my Whisk Bread recipes to make great bread and pizza dough without kneading or a machine.) Savings: $223.

Put eBay to work. Now I'm on a repair tear. I spent my collected Sears Rewards on a new Cuisinart food processor the other day, but took it back after watching the instructional video. My 20-year-old Braun Multipractic 280 machine has more options and seems easier to use! My small grating blade came apart after years of heavy use and the housing for the steel blade is beginning to crack, but other than that, it works like a champ. Parts are hard to find, but eBay is now sending me a note. I'm sure I'll be able to replace those for less than the $161 for the new machine. Savings: over $100.

What are your techniques for getting the best value out of your kitchen equipment?