This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice (Butter-Flavored) Things

Filed under “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” cross-referenced under “Math Is Hard,” and sadly similar to the class-action lawsuit brought against Ferrero (spearheaded by a woman who had been allowing her daughter to have a jar of Nutella every morning for breakfast), I bring you the case of dumb people v. ConAgra Foods:

A Nebraska woman has filed a false advertising lawsuit against ConAgra Foods, accusing the packaged food company of intentionally misrepresenting its Parkay Spray butter substitute as fat-free and calorie-free.

The lawsuit filed by Pamela Trewhitt, of Gretna, Monday in Omaha’s federal court seeks class-action status to represent thousands of people it says have been deceived by the company’s product labeling.

While the spray is marketed and sold as fat-free and calorie-free, it contains 832 calories and 93 grams of fat per 8-ounce bottle, the lawsuit says. Parkay Spray’s nutrition information label also uses artificially small serving sizes of one to five sprays to understate the amount of fat and calories in the product, according to the complaint.

“Defendant knew or should have known that its product was mislabeled and engendered confusion among consumers,” the lawsuit says.

Here are both the front and back labels of the product in question:









Notice that although the product is indeed advertised as having zero fat and zero calories, it also has 1,130 servings in an 8 ounce bottle.  This means that, if used properly, each spray contains:

832 / 1130 = 0.736 calories

93 / 1130 = 0.082 grams of fat

And even if the five spray “topping serving” is used, this amounts to a whopping:

5 * 832 / 1130 = 3.68 calories (less than two tic tacs)

5 * 93 / 1130 = 0.412 grams of fat

The problem here does not appear to be that ConAgra misled consumers, but rather that the consumers willfully ignored the recommended serving sizes and went out of their way to delude themselves into thinking that, instead of having very nearly zero calories and zero fat and a unique delivery method to minimize use, a product containing buttermilk could have literally zero calories and zero fat:

Kansas City attorney Ureka Idstrom, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Trewhitt, did not return calls Thursday from The Associated Press seeking comment.

But her lawsuit points to Internet complaints about the spray.

“For example, a contributor to (a) website … writes, ‘I could not figure out why I simply could not lose hardly even a pound, even though I was working out hard … and monitoring calories … for a couple of years,'” the lawsuit relays. “Well … I was also literally taking the top [off] the ‘fat and calorie free butter’ spray and pouring it on all my carefully steamed veggies when I found out that a bottle of that stuff is 90 fat grams. I was going through two bottles a week, and working out and getting fat and unhealthy.”

Information on nutrition labels must be taken as a whole.  A consumer cannot read one part of a label then hold the product’s maker responsible for his or her ignorance to understand the rest.  The serving size is just as important as the number of calories and the amount of fat, and all of those things are related to the ingredients.  A wise consumer cannot just wash their hands of all responsibility, and if they have any doubts, they should either not use the product or call to request more information, not use the product without question and sue the company later.


One thought on “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice (Butter-Flavored) Things

  1. As with all things, there must be more to the story… and a little bit of that “more” is that math is hard, as you so often point out.

    So, even if the brainiac was getting only her fat calories from this Parkay spray, that’s 832 calories per bottle / 2 weeks per bottle = 416 calories of fat per week, or about 60 calories per day. And if the brainiac had 3 meals per day with the “spray” then she was putting on 20 calories per meal.

    I don’t see how this was enough to totally blow the brainiac’s diet. But if each of her meals was 1500 calories…

    Or – let’s be generous – what if, by her calculation, she was eating around 1000 calories per day; a pretty significant caloric deficit for most people. She would’ve only been adding 6% to her diet, and probably not enough to overcome her caloric deficit.

    Yes, there’s more to the story…

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