ERSP unboxes Green Chef's mixed bag of organic claims

Add Two Cups of Sentiment ...

Here's a marketing legend that may or may not be true.

The story goes that when powdered cake and cookie mixes first appeared on the market, the only ingredient necessary for baking was water. Just mix the powder with water, put the resultant goop in the pan and bake.

"But what about the eggs?" you ask, likely because you remember helping your favorite adult bake cakes by beating the eggs, adding them to the mix and blending away the lumps.

Well, the story goes, the eggs were a marketing ploy. To liven up flagging powdered cake sales, marketers for one of the larger cake-mix companies created a mix that required fresh eggs to be added prior to baking. The marketers believed that requiring homemakers to take that extra step reconnected them to positive feelings about cooking their own meals for their families.

Quit Yer Kitchen

While it's not clear that the eggs really impacted sales (other reasons have been advanced to explain the market longevity of cake mixes), a similar marketing theme may be tugging on the heart and apron strings of today's affluent consumers.

Several companies have pioneered at-home meal kits. Consumers order premeasured and uncooked ingredients, which arrive boxed and ready to cook. The consumer does the cooking but skips the prep. Along with artisanal ingredients and exotic recipes, this last bit of consumer effort is key to the marketing.

For example, "Go ahead, pat yourself on the back," Green Chef's copy encourages. "You'll be amazed by the tasty, restaurant-worthy meal you cooked." Emphasis on you.

Some meal-kit companies have received negative attention because of the claims they make about their ingredients (we've written about one such case before). Latest on the chopping block is Green Chef, an at-home kit service that was recently challenged by an anonymous competitor before the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP).

The competitor took exception to several of Green Chef's assertions, particularly its organic claims, arguing that its marketing language − "Organic Meal Kits," "proud to be USDA-certified organic," "90% or more organic ingredients" − was misleading. After reviewing the phrases, and considering some of Green Chef's self-imposed language changes, ERSP had a mixed bag of recommendations.

The competitor's main beef was that the language implied that all of Green Chef's ingredients and kits were organic, which wasn't true. ERSP found that the organic claims (and use of the USDA seal) were too broad, and recommended that the company restrict claims to particular ingredients with conspicuous disclosures. ERSP also rapped Green Chef's knuckles over superiority claims, which it recommended be eliminated, and told the company it could not claim to deliver "the most organic ingredients compared to other meal delivery kit companies."

The Takeaway

Green Chef agreed to the recommendations and promised to partner with California Certified Organic Farmers, an organic certifying agency, to craft language consistent with its guidelines. This decision serves as a reminder that green marketing claims, including organic claims, must be narrowly tailored and appropriately substantiated.

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