Consumer Reports Pits Pretty Food Packaging Picture Against Paltry Reality

(Consumer Reports)

We’ve all fallen for it before: Cruising down the grocery aisle, deciding what to pick when suddenly, there it is — a box bearing a beautifully shot photo of a tantalizing snack, delicious gourmet dish or some other form of tempting cuisine. That fantasy can come crashing down, as plenty of customers have complained to our hardworking siblings at Consumer Reports that the packaging on many products just doesn’t live up to the reality.

Consumer Reports headed out to the store and loaded up a cart full of some of the foods readers complained about as being nothing like what was pictured on the box.

Too small, too mushy or just ugly and as unappetizing as all get-out — the list of complaints is endless as food companies try to present the prettiest picture possible.

A few examples:

Lean Pockets Pretzel Bread Sandwiches: The box shows a pretzel bread roll fairly stuffed with grilled chicken and peppers, but CR’s sample had a barely full pocket. Lean, indeed.

Banquet’s Spaghetti and Meatballs: It would be tough to twirl even one piece of the very short noodles, which are in pieces instead of strands. Not to mention the teeny tiny meatballs that look shriveled and sad in comparison to the ones on the box.

Tabatchnick Tuscany Lentil Soup: The soup on the box looks absolutely delicious, with fully-formed lentils and red and green veggies popping out at the eye. The actual soup, as a reader pointed out, is a “brown mush with carrots. You couldn’t even identify individual lentils. Boo hiss.”

It’s important to point out that in some cases, products didn’t really end up being that bad. After all, a shopper may from time to time just happen to buy a single problem package. Perhaps a carton of mint chocolate ice cream with nary a chip to be found, for example.

We want to see your not-so-close contenders as well. Send in examples of poorly advertised products you’ve come across to or via our mobile Tipster app for iPhone and Android.



Edit Your Comment

  1. BrownLeopard says:

    I’ve always hated Hot Pocket’s advertising pictures. The only time they look like the package is when you get down to the end.

  2. Mr Grey says:

    This just in – advertising and packages lie.

    • Jawaka says:

      Why should it be allowed?

    • Chuft-Captain says:

      That doesn’t make it acceptable. There’s no legitimate reason for the food to be substantially different from the pictures of that food. Anything else, frankly, is false advertising.

      The same goes for fast food. I think we all understand that wrapped and bagged and boxed sandwiches may not be as prettily made or intact as the pictures, but there’s no reason the product should not clearly and substantially include the same amount of product pictured. For instance, there is no excuse for showing a picture of a burger that sticks out past the bun on all sides, and then serving one that is in fact smaller than the bun.

  3. DaveInBillsburg says:

    The photos on the front of the packaging aren’t even real. It’s like when the paint grill marks on burgers or use paint or elmers glue for milk in cereal. I bet those Banquet Meatballs on the package are ping pong balls covered with a thin layer of meat to make it look they are round and plump.

  4. Blueskylaw says:

    If you look at the Lean Pockets box, it looks like they photoshopped the two pieces of green pepper, the red pepper and the sausage bit. Spiderman can’t even hang out over the edge like that without falling off.

    • Kristoffer says:

      Actually you are right about the photoshop – at least on the peppers. A while back they made the Lean pockets new and improved ‘now with red peppers’. My store had both the old version and new version side by side and the company had actually gone back in on the new boxes and added/colored in the red peppers. I don’t even think they photoshopped them in – if you looked close enough it actually looked like they had a 10 year old color in some red squares.

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

    I bought some Simply Asia noodle bowls on sale a while back, thankfully I only paid about $1 each (normal price was $3.99, on sale 1/2 price, plus I had coupons for $1 off each). What a ripoff. The picture on the package bore no resemblance to the contents. The vegetable packet turned out to be a little packet about 1 1/2 ” square filled with about 2 teaspoons of dehydrated vegetables, and once the sauce was added, it was just a dark brown mess. I bought 3 different varieties, and they all turned out about the same color and taste, and overly salty at that.

    I will never buy them again.

    I know advertising is designed to make us buy the product, but at the very least, the finished product should at least look a little like the picture on the box.

    • MaxH42 needs an edit button says:

      I really like Annie Chun’s udon bowl…yes, it just includes a dehydrated square of scallions with a few strips of fried tofu, plus a soy sauce packet, but the noodles are vacuum sealed fresh rather than dehydrated. I add some hot sauce or a touch extra soy for variety, and I get them for $1.99 each at Trader Joe’s. That’s my lunch 4-5 days a week. :)

      • RvLeshrac says:

        They’re miserably bad when compared with what you can pick up at an asian grocery for the same or just *slightly* more.

  6. Goatshadow says:

    Reminds me of FoodIRL, though they haven’t had time to update it much lately, but it has more of these comparisons along with often humorous taste reviews.

  7. cactus jack says:

    That Hot Pocket is begging to be filled if you know what I mean.

  8. rdclark says:

    Are we really buying food based on pictures? Did we learn this at McDonald’s? Is this why people are afraid of really good restaurants – the menus only have words?

    Pretzel Lean Pockets are quite good, by the way.

  9. Rebecca K-S says:

    I love lentil soup, but it always, always looks like food that someone’s already eaten.

  10. Sarek says:

    Reminds me of the old Campbell’s soup ad where it turned out they had put marbles in the bottom of the bowl to make all the veggies visible, so that it looked like there were tons of veggies in the soup. And a Mad Man type that I knew defended it, saying that it was just to make sure you could see each and every veggie bit.

  11. Press1forDialTone says:

    Rebecca K-S, Progress Lentil Soup looks good and tastes great for a canned
    soup. vs. homemade.

    Here’s what I do gang:

    Try something. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it again or as virtually all
    manufacturers say on their packages, take the proof of purchase and
    the receipt back to the store and they will give you your money back.
    Don’t be an ass and do this multiple times, just don’t buy it again unless
    it says its improved or different, then maybe try it again.

    Funny how this has always worked for me and MILLIONS OF OTHERS.

  12. Crank says:

    They don’t all use fake photos. I work for a food manufacturer (whom I’d rather not reveal, both for my privacy and my signed NDA) that uses real photos of our real food. We make a calendar that is guaranteed to make you hungry. Unless you hate sweets.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      Dunkin’ Donuts calendar makes my teeth hurt.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      There’s a reason we’re anonymous, you know.

      Unless you’re stating what position and cube you’re working, there’s no reason to simultaneously use a nick and be afraid of discovery.

  13. Kuri says:

    Banquet is always horrible. Tried some of their chicken recently and it was…. it was just bland and tasteless. I gagged one time when eating it.

    As for hot pockets, well, I had some Meijer brand ones that were better.

  14. DuckNCover says:

    How about a post about the foods that actually do resemble what the picture on the package is?

  15. eldergias says:

    It should be illegal to show any picture of a product on packaging or advertising that has not come from an actual sample of the product being sold.