Ripoffs Encountered At The Grocery Store

Sometimes items on the store shelves jump into your cart with the promise of better things than they deliver. Examples include food stuffs that look nothing like their glamour shots on the box and big bags of chips that are only half-full.

Len Penzo dot com points out some other grocery store letdowns:

* Anything that claims to have berries. Many products that claim to include blueberries — such as cooking mixes — actually use apples or a combination of maltodextrin and food coloring. Manufacturers figure that if something looks small and blue and tastes fruit-like then that’s good enough for consumers.

* Vanilla flavored stuff. The spice is rather expensive, so food makers tend to go with a synthetic vanillin made with “coal tar derivatives.”

* Juices that boast extra vitamins and antioxidants. Since the pasteurization process destroys natural vitamin C, juice factories replace it with ascorbic acid. You may as well get the vitamin in pill form.

The 5 Most Misleading Grocery Items Shoppers Waste Money On [Len Penzo dot com]


Edit Your Comment

  1. MichaelRyanSD says:

    I knew it!!!

  2. Rainicorn with baby bats says:

    There’s a brand of cupcakes that has a can of blueberries inside the muffin mix. Heavenly!

    • DariusC says:

      I tried cooking with it. The blueberries in the can look and taste really off from the supermarket brand. Little pebbles that could pass for eggs of a sea critter. Even worse, the blueberries when mixed with the dough give it the tint of the berries unless thoroughly washed prior (which washes out the flavorful juices). The tint isn’t a big deal if you don’t care about aesthetics of the food, but I felt the berries weren’t quite as good days later (due to being natural?).

      • Rainicorn with baby bats says:

        I agree with what you’ve said for the most part, the tinting didn’t bother me, but you have to agree that those were better than the Jiffy “blueberry” muffins…

    • Maltboy wanders aimlessly through the Uncanny Valley says:

      Those aren’t blueberries. They’re artificially flavored baby seal eyeballs in heavy orphan tear syrup. Enjoy your cupcake, monster.

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      Betty Crocker? Used to bake with that muffin mix. Then I started learning how to bake REAL blueberry muffins — and they are AWESOME!

      *doing the blueberry muffin dance*

  3. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Examples include food stuffs that look nothing like their glamour shots on the box and big bags of chips that are only half-full.

    *Serving Suggestion

    *Sold by weight, not by volume. Settling of contents may have occurred during shipping.

    • Geekybiker says:

      Not mention that extra big bag is to help prevent crushed chips.

    • SmokeyBacon says:

      While I agree that the glamour shots of food that really look nothing like the actual product – they could have picked a better example then the chips because of exactly what you said about contents settling. TV Dinners, for example, look nothing like their packages do.

      • HalOfBorg says:

        Hungry Man chicken TV dinners usually match the picture pretty good, though the potatoes are never that fluffy.

        Now SLICED meat dinners (like turkey) are always very much exaggerated. Though I still think they’re delicious once in a while.

        The Mexican meals – THOSE always look great on the box, terrible inside, great in your mouth though.

  4. Guppy06 says:


  5. humphrmi says:

    Um, isn’t ascorbic acid the scientific name for Vitamin C? So it’s not like their taking out one thing and putting in another, you’ve just used two different names for the same thing. Also pasteurization isn’t some evil process that robs foods of their nutrients, it’s somewhat critical in keeping us from getting sick on everything from milk and juices to most shelf-stable foods. I mean, really? Has Louis Pasteur been dead so long already that we’ve forgotten how foods carry diseases?

    • Coleoptera Girl says:

      Louis Pasteur is one of my heroes! I like not having massive outbreaks of food-borne illnesses every week!
      As far as the fortified juice goes, I can’t remember the last time I saw orange juice that wasn’t fortified with Vitamin C. If you’re going to be that picky, might as well just buy a juicer and a bunch of oranges!

      • failurate says:

        I was trying to figure out how much 1 gallon of fresh squeezed orange juice would cost. Oranges are around $1.00 a pound here. A gallon of water weighs roughly 8lbs. So if the oranges were entirely juice, we would be looking at $8 for a gallon. But for an orange, only about 50% (guestimated number pulled from ass) of the weight is attainable juice… so a gallon of fresh squeezed orange juice would cost around $16.

        • Coleoptera Girl says:

          If you want to buy in bulk, I managed to find 40lbs of “juice oranges” for $30. Taking your assumption, those 40lbs will get you 5 gallons at 8lbs each. That would be about $6 per gallon! More expensive? Yes. But its fresh, unadulterated juice! ;D

          I’d honestly much rather grab my fortified, pasteurized orange juice.

    • failurate says:

      The “pasteurization is bad!” folks really scare me. I think it is a spin off of the pseudo-science/pseudo-medicine cults lead by idiots like Jenny McCarthy.

      We are having our first kid this year. We have a few friends who are also expecting. I have heard some of the dumbest things from these normally intelligent people in relation to medicine, science, nutrition… There are a couple that I am not sure we can hang out with anymore.

      • Kuri says:

        Same here. None of them seem to understand what infant mortality rates were like before all of this science that is suddenly the boogeyman.

      • Emperor Norton I says:

        Stop calling Jenny McCarthy an idiot.
        She’s so stupid that she makes idiots look intelligent.

      • Darrone says:

        Oh god, I am in the exact same shoes! Due in March, and I’ve had normally intelligent family members ask things like “Are you going to get them immunized?”. No, of course not, because they will be safe from whooping cough under their tinfoil hats…

        These people rail against mainstream science. They think that what you get from a doctor with 500 clinical tests behind it is hokum, but if a celebrity says yogurt will make you poop better, then its FACT.

        • katarzyna says:

          “No, of course not, because they will be safe from whooping cough under their tinfoil hats…”

          Hilarious and brilliant. Mind if I use this? The anti-vac people really, really tick me off.

      • Clyde Barrow says:

        @failurate; I can only imagine what you folks here when your wife is expecting. The “lawyers, doctor’s, and philosopher’s” come out in force.

      • nicless says:

        I was really pleased when I went into my 10 month old son’s doctor’s office for the first time and up on the wall they posted a news story about how the doctor that scared everyone off immunizations can’t practice medicine anymore because he made up most of that study.

      • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

        Well, it’s not that it’s BAD, necessarily. It’s that modern food production depends heavily upon it to ensure safety.

        So when you have eggs and milk that could have pathogens that aren’t necessarily the fault of poor handling, yeah, it’s a good thing. But when you have to pasteurize juice because you don’t know what critters you let into the batch to have a multiplication party, that’s a problem.

      • OutPastPluto says:

        Pasteurization is bad.

        It’s just that botulism is worse.

        That’s why you buy stuff fresh rather than after it’s gone through some industrial process intended to save money and increase shelf life.

      • DubbaEwwTeeEff says:

        There’s some debate over pasteurization, but it’s not over the safety benefits – it’s very clear that the process will kill just about all of the pathogens you’d otherwise see in milk and juice, and that it makes them much safer to drink.

        It IS true that the heating in pasteurization has a denaturing effect on some compounds. Some foodies claim that raw raw milk products taste better, especially cheese. Pasteurization also can destroy certain vitamins, amino acids, and so on, especially UHT pasteurization (hence the extra vitamins thing above).

        I personally haven’t tried raw milk before, but I absolutely can vouch for the difference in apple cider. If you’re lucky enough to have an apple orchard somewhere near you, you can usually buy it fresh and unpasteurized directly from them; if not, you’re stuck with what’s on the shelves at the supermarket, which is basically apple juice that hasn’t been filtered enough. The difference in taste is night and day.

    • Such an Interesting Monster says:

      I think you missed the point. He’s not saying that pasteurization is bad. He’s also doesn’t have an issue with them adding vitamin C back in as ascorbic acid. What he does have an issue with is companies charging you more for a product with a fancy label touting it’s amazing antioxidant and immune-bolstering abilities when all they are doing is adding in cheap ascorbic acid to replace the natural vitamin C that should be there but was removed when it was pasteurized, and charging you a hefty price premium.

  6. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    The most expensive version of any product should always be consulted first. All others should then be compared to this “par” product to see what they are lacking by comparison.

    • Cat says:

      Sorry, I refuse to believe “the most expensive product is the best”

      Case in point: Kraft.
      Store brand Macaroni and cheese: Contains cheese.
      Kraft Macaroni and “cheese”: Contains NO cheese.

      Store brand French Onion Dip: Contains Sour cream as the major ingredient.
      “Simply Kraft” has NO sour cream: Water, Canola Oil, Corn Syrup & Whey Protein Concentrate make up 98% of the ingredients. And it tastes like crap.

      • varro says:

        I make my own mac and cheese and onion dip at home….(well, I just put a packet of dried onion soup in sour cream and stir – but homemade mac and cheese is really good….and I use a mix of Tillamook medium and extra sharp cheddar)

      • Bonster says:

        You know what I miss since moving away from Kroger? The cheapo store brand white chocolate chips. I miss them not just because they were the cheapest, but because they are the only ones I have ever found that actually use cocoa butter as the fat source. All other baking chips, including the expensive brands, are labelled white confection or white creme, because they’re vanilla-flavored hydrogenated palm oil.

  7. crispyduck13 says:

    Anything dairy-esque with creative spelling in the name such as creme or créme, is not really using naturally derived milk products. They are usually overpriced and tend to taste like broiled ass.

  8. sirwired says:

    Artificial Vanilln is not a “ripoff”. By the time the processing is complete, the vanillin is completely, 100%, chemically identical to the compound that gives natural vanilla the lion’s share of it’s flavor.

    Real vanilla is nearly indistinguishable from artificial vanillin in baking; dairy products are a little different since they are not subjected to the heat that cooks off the more subtle parts of the real stuff. Even professional cooks will often use the fake stuff for baking, (the price difference is dramatic) and the real stuff for dairy.

    • Marlin says:

      Not even close. If you can;t tell the differance then you need help.

      • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

        Both right and wrong. While it is the vanillin that makes the “vanilla” flavor, real vanilla has many more compounds that impart that real vanilla taste. To properly synthesize vanilla you’d have to synthesize all of them.

        That’s like saying that since we can synthesize caffeine from carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen that there’s no difference between a glass of water with caffeine dissolved in it and real caffeinated coffee.

      • sirwired says:

        If you actually do a blind taste test using a quality artificial vanilla (and quality natural vanilla), most people (the expert tasters at Cook’s Illustrated included) would be hard pressed to tell a difference between the two in baked goods. The two ARE close. The remaining “Real” vanilla compounds (besides vanillin) simply do not survive more-or-less under the heat of baking.

    • webweazel says:

      It is NOT identical. I can tell the difference easily even with just a sniff of the bottle, not even a taste of it. I bought a bottle of the fake stuff one time, couldn’t wait until I finally used up the crap, and bought the good stuff again. Tasted like plastic to me.

      Let me check my book-“Twinkie Deconstructed” …

      The fake stuff, vanillin, is named–4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde, which is made from crude oil. (So is aspirin and quite a lot of other foodstuffs, surprisingly.) Then mixed with either corn syrup, caramel color, and/or propylene glycol.

      Let me go with some passages from the book here:

      “The main and most important ingredient in both, vanillin, is the same chemically, but the natural flavor has hundreds of other components as well, perhaps over 250; so many, in fact, that it is not completely understood (vanilla is not unique in this–coffee has more than eight hundred and is no better understood).”

      “…gas chromatograph and flame ionization detector…positively identified 216 of natural vanilla’s flavor components…One study classified, among others, 25 alcohols, 11 aldehydes, 20 acids, 10 ketones, 5 esters, 10 phenols, 10 furans, 2 lactones, and 40 miscellaneous hydrocarbons…Each chemical contributes to what the pros call its “bouquet”-what we actually smell-even in the most minute of trace amounts…when they are all mixed together, they help each other to smell and taste uniquely alluring…”

      “It is expensive enough that most food companies avoid using it wherever possible, but they, like Hostess, end up needing a tiny bit of it for an extra depth of taste that the artificial stuff can’t seem to provide.”

      The fake stuff is a one-dimensional trick pony. If you can’t tell the difference, good for you, but the rest of us sure can. Large bakers only use the fake stuff because it’s CHEAP. Period. Someday, maybe they’ll be able to synthesize a chemically-similar coffee liquid from crude oil. And prop it up with corn oil and propylene glycol. After reading the bit about the additional compounds, would you drink that every day? I sure as hell wouldn’t.

  9. PunditGuy says:

    Just beware of anything that says “flavor” as a qualifier for something you think is an ingredient. “Vanilla flavor” rarely contains actually vanilla. “Blueberry flavor” probably doesn’t have blueberries.

  10. Beauzeaux says:

    Look out for “chocolatey” flavors. The term is used on ice creams and baked goods for when it’s not actual chocolate chips (for example) but chips made of some other flavored fat.

  11. sirwired says:

    Vitamin C can indeed break down during some food processing. But there isn’t anything “magic” about the vitamin C the orange started out with; there’s nothing wrong with Vitamin C from some other source back in after the fact.

    • maubs says:

      Unless you’re allergic to the corn the added Vitamin C is made from, like me. I avoid all products with fake Vitamin C, including most orange juice. Seriously, do we need to add more Vitamin C to a natural source (and make it toxic for people like me)? Ugh.

  12. HoJu says:

    How DARE YOU speak ill of CrunchBerries!!!!

    • Sure I could agree with you, but then we'd BOTH be wrong. says:

      Are you implying that my Crunchberry cereal is not made from real Crunchberries?

  13. Coffee says:

    I think it’s important to be conscientious of the cost of produce in your area, because if you’re not paying attention, you’re going to pay a premium at a place like Safeway. The example I like to use is red bell peppers. In my area, Safeway sells red bells for $2.99 each. Costco sells sex-packs of red, yellow, and orange for about $6.29. My local mom n’ pop grocery store gets red bells too ugly for Safeway (they’re not perfectly shaped) and sells them for $.89.

    If you live in an area where there are vegetable stands, you should explore them…they frequently have very good deals for better produce.

    • Coffee says:

      Sex packs? Where is my mind this morning?

    • AstroPig7 says:

      Wow. Here I thought Costco was family-friendly.

    • George4478 says:

      I just buy the green bell peppers for $.50 each.

      But, then again, I don’t use them in sex-packs. YSPMV.

    • CrankyOwl says:

      WTH are red peppers always more expensive than green? I hate green peppers – they have no flavor. Meh.

      • Coffee says:

        I know…I like red, orange, and yellow…they’re all sweeter than green, but I cannot rationalize paying $2.99 for one.

        • Cat says:

          Red, orange, and yellow peppers…they’re RIPE. If you leave a green pepper on the plant to ripen, it will turn red. Same with Jalapenos. The orange and red peppers are just a different variety of sweet pepper that turns orange or yellow when they’re “red”. There is no real justification for red peppers costing anything more than a few cents more than green peppers.

          This is one reason I grow my own. I eat what I need, and the rest stay on the vine to ripen and be frozen for colorful cooking all winter.

          • Coffee says:

            I knew that about other peppers (e.g. red and green chilis), but did not know about bells. Thanks for the info on that, Cat.

      • LMA says:

        No, they have a flavor. A horrible, horrible flavor. Green peppers are the ass of peppers. :shudder:

    • majortom1981 says:

      Are these bell peppers in those examples all coming from the same place? I would rather buy a bell pepper grown in the US that is say $1 more then one that is cheaper but grown in say mexico.

      • Coffee says:

        I’m pretty sure that they’re all grown in Mexico or South America…I live in central Washington, where it’s quite cold in the winter. There’s a local stand that sells their own very nice, very inexpensive peppers, but the growing season is only like June – October, so the rest of the year we rely on peppers imported from other countries.

      • The Cybernetic Entomologist says:

        Costco peppers are typically Mexico from early fall to around late February, after that they come from Canada (the primary supplier is out of Ontario, and source from Mexico in the Canadian off-season). They’re greenhouse grown in both cases.

        Costco peppers are a staple in my house pretty much year-round :)

    • waitaminute says:

      I’m sorry… Costco sells WHAT packs?

  14. Clyde Barrow says:

    Enjoy life people and quit worrying about the little things such as mentioned in this article.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      You should probably go play elsewhere. Let us negative nancies continue on in our consumer complaint sandbox.

  15. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I got taken in by some sesame noodle bowls. They were marked $3.99 each, but were on sale BOGO. I had a $1.00 coupon, so I paid $2.99 for two. The picture on the package looked awesome.

    When I opened them up, there was a small pack of already cooked noodles, a packet with about 1 teaspoon of dried vegetables, a small pack of sauce, and about 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds. The picture on the box and the finished product had no bearing on each other.

    I put them on my mental “never buy again” list.

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      Instant noodle bowls typically don’t look like what’s in the picture. The picture just shows what the noodles are flavored after. I learned after trying out a few instant noodles.

      Some instant noodles don’t even have dried veggies — just oil, sauce and a dubious pack of MSG-laden flavoring powder. I consider it lucky to actually get a pack of noodles with dehydrated veggies in them. I generally think it’s better than just noodles and flavored water.

  16. ardala says:

    As a warning, if you’re trying to avoid corn syrup, Dextrose is another corn-based sugar and maltodextrin is made from corn as well. I loved reading the cereal box boasting “No Corn Syrup!” and then seeing Dextrose high up in the ingredients list.

    The things you learn when living with someone with a corn allergy.

    • Thorzdad says:

      I’ve never seen a package announce “No corn syrup”. I see plenty, though, which announce “no high-fructose corn syrup”, which is an entirely different product.

  17. Foot_Note says:

    If you want blueberry muffins, just watch the Blueberry Muffin Good Eats Episode ;)

  18. maxamus2 says:

    I just learned that they market this fish called “Atlantic Salmon”. 100% of this fish is farm raised, is pumped full of growth hormones and other drugs, but the icing on the cake is the pellets they feed them are laced with an orange dye to give the fish that pink/orange color like real salmon has. Unbelievable.

    • The Cybernetic Entomologist says:

      And more often than not, the feed pellets for that farmed fish consists mainly of GMO corn.

  19. El_Fez says:

    You may as well get the vitamin in pill form.

    Or, you know, you could eat an orange.

  20. tooluser says:

    Biggest rip-off: You have to keep buying more food, or you will die.

    Talk about feeding an addiction!