Sara Lee accused of ‘misleading’ marketing

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Sara Lee has issued a clarification statement regarding its EarthGrain-brand bread after organic farming campaigners at Cornucopia accused it of “misleading and unethical” claims.

Sara Lee sources Eco-Grain, which accounts for 20 percent of the grain in each of its EarthGrain loaves, from Cargill affiliate Horizon Milling. Sara Lee says the grain is grown using ‘precision agriculture’ – using satellite imaging to pinpoint fertilizer requirements in different parts of the field, thereby reducing fertilizer requirements and emissions, while increasing yield. The bread’s marketing is focused on ‘The Plot to Save the Earth, One Field at a Time’.

But the Wisconsin-based non-profit Cornucopia Institute issued a document on Monday, claiming that the EarthGrain marketing campaign has angered many in the organic community.

Food and Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia Charlotte Vallaeys said: "It's a crass example of a corporation trying to capitalize on the valuable market cachet of organic, while intentionally misleading consumers – without making any meaningful commitment to protect the environment or produce safer and more nutritious food."

The organization claims that the use of Eco-Grain wheat in its bread would only reduce related fertilizer use by about 3 percent.

In response, Sara Lee said that it had never claimed the grain was organic and issued a statement saying: “We’ve been completely transparent about the environmental benefits…At the moment, there is 20 percent Eco-Grain in our bread. We are looking to increase that percentage as more farmers are identified to grow the crop. We feel that by commercializing innovative farming practices like precision farming, which has a number of benefits for both the consumer and environment, EarthGrains can help to lead the bread industry in the right direction.”

EarthGrain bread is also marketed as 100 percent natural. Although the term ‘natural’ is not regulated, products that make a natural claim remain popular with consumers. ‘Natural’ was the top label claim in 2009, appearing on 23 percent of new product launches, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database.

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