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.: February 2007 --> John Foraker Swings, Misses

John Foraker Swings, Misses

» I often speak to business audiences to help them understand the value of interacting with blogs and other online media. So I was happy to see John Foraker, CEO of Annie’s Homegrown, dive right into the fray in response to a recent Salon article which attacked one of his products.

And then I read what he wrote.

It's not that the letter he reposts in Megnut's comments is so filled with marketese. Sometimes old dogs can learn just one new trick at a time. It's that he appears to think blog readers are stupid:

On our product boxes we recommend using lowfat milk for the healthiest product that, when prepared, contains fewer calories (280), less total fat (4 g) and less sodium (550 mg) than Kraft, which can contain up to 380 calories, 15 grams of fat and 740 milligrams of sodium per serving.

"Can contain up to?" Eventually, one of Meg's commenters noticed that he had pulled a fast one:

John, let's be fair here. You are comparing Annie's made with low-fat milk to Kraft made with whole milk. The "light prep" on Kraft's is only 290 calories, 5g fat and 600mg sodium.

His response? "Shannon, you make some great points. Thanks." And then he goes on to talk about something else.

Sure, John Foraker's statement is accurate. But it's deliberately misleading, comparing a low-fat version of his product to a full-fat version of his competitor's. Falling back on "recommended preparations" doesn't cut it. His statement is designed to give the impression that, all things being equal, Annie's macaroni and cheese is noteably lower in calories, fat, and sodium than Kraft's.

It would have been so easy to say, "We believe our product is superior because it contains no artificial colors and no synthetic chemicals. We don't like to eat that stuff, and we've built our company on the idea that there are other people who don't want to, either. The high quality of our ingredients also makes our macaroni and cheese taste better, or at least we think so."

And that would have been enough.

I came away the Salon article reminded that "natural" doesn't actually mean very much when it comes to food, but also reminded that—for a convenience food— Annie's Mac and Cheese has a slight edge on Kraft because it contains fewer food additives. I came away from John Foraker's remarks knowing that he's willing to deliberately obfuscate the merits of his and his competitor's products in order to deflect criticism of his company. And he's willing to go out of his way to do that in a supposedly "transparent" form, on a blog.

I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. And a markedly lower opinion of the Annie's brand.

John, whomever is advising you about the blogosphere, it's time to find someone who can do more than point you to the most prominent food bloggers. You need someone who can help you understand the idea of transparency and who can explain to you that on blogs, as in most of life, charm is no substitute for honesty.

 [ 02.06.07 ]


I suppose that additionally, "natural" doesn't mean "ethical". Once upon a time it used to be illegal to advertise untruthfully. I suppose marketers got better at marketting and consumers got inundated with too much information to process from too many products from which to choose. Honestly, it has become almost a part-time job to be an educated, savvy and responsible consumer these days.

Rebecca, going through this trail, I can certainly see how my comments were unclear. You absolutely nailed how I should have responded -- we're proud of the fact that we use only straight-from-nature ingredients. We never put "weird stuff" in our products because we don't think artificial additives are good for our bodies or our earth.

The point I'd tried to make was that Annie’s is formulated to taste great without adding any butter – we use real cheddar cheese for a creamy flavor. We recognize that our competitor offers a light preparation, but butter or spread is called for to achieve their "classic" taste.

Sorry for any misperceptions. Honesty and transparency are a big deal for me.


I like the bunny (and the "Cheddar Bunnies" crackers that have been referenced as problematic), but man, this whole situation just has "PR nightmare" written all over it. Has Kraft weighed in yet? What about any of the companies making alternate products?

I think it was on Shelterrific that I said that I love mac & cheese, but I'm not really under any illusions of even the most organic version actually being "healthy" for me to eat - it's the nature of cheese. Even if I make it myself from certified organic ingredients, it's still, well, mac & cheese. Delicious, but not for every day, for me.

John, whomever is advising you about the blogosphere, it's time to find someone who can do more than point you to the most prominent food bloggers. You need someone who can help you understand the idea of transparency and who can explain to you that on blogs, as in most of life, charm is no substitute for honesty.

Hmmm ... know anyone? ;-)


Personally I think the Annie's that does use rich ingredients like butter and whole-fat milk is the superior product. Wrangling about nutrition facts misses the point- Annie's has a lot of products that allow college students (like me) to eat food that tastes like it has real ingredients. Kraft tastes like...not much. If I have to run a couple of miles in the gym, then it is still worth it to me.

Thanks Melissa, One of the interesting things about consumer behavior is that many times what people say ends up being very different from what they will actually do. Most consumers will tell you they want lower sodium, lower fat, etc. But when it comes to trading those things off against taste, taste wins, almost every time. At Annie's we have always taken pride in our mac & cheese products unique, and different, taste relative to our competitors. We certainly try to do so with the best nutritionals we can deliver, and of course with real ingredients, like cheese, not something created in test-tubes. One way we have found to improve the nutritionals is to use real ingredients with bold taste so that you can in fact use ligher prep to get better nutritional outcomes AND great taste. What Rebecca correctly called me on for lack of clarity was that I compared our "Annie's Way" recommended prep, which is lighter, to our competitor's recommended prep which is full fat. I did not do that to try to mislead but rather, I tried to make the point that when you use real ingredients, you can often get better nutritional outcomes without a big drop-off in taste. I am pleased that our products work for you.


If that's what you meant, that's the way you should say it from now on, John. "Our all-natural ingredients taste so good, we recommend low-fat milk for the best-tasting preparation."

I think you should try to get a parent's magazine to do a blind taste test of Annie's and Kraft and whoever else is in the field—pitting low-fat and full-fat preparations against each other in the same contest—and see which version people choose.

Thanks for your participation here.



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