When Will the Food Marketing Madness Stop? Cobs Bakery Misleads Consumers


gmo free bread
Photo take by Kristal Allen, Calgary, Alta., 2014. Shared via Facebook.

The picture to the left was shared with me by Cami Ryan.  Several thoughts and rants come to mind as I look at this marketing campaign.

Has marketing always been this dishonest?  Have consumers always been so led astray?  Are we all just pawns in the game of food marketing?

I find it quite ironic that the same people that would claim that “big agri-business” is so dishonest with its intentions continue to attempt to mislead the customer in terms of the food that they eat we have food companies that continue to prey on the uninformed public.

Adjacent to this post you can see a picture regarding some locally produced bread.  At the surface this is a great concept, a bakery that uses locally produced wheat.  And then the marketing train falls off the cliff of honesty.

For those of you that are unaware, there is currently no GMO wheat in Alberta or North America for that matter.  This marketing is nothing more than a sly negative marketing campaign looking to trick consumers into thinking  that they have something to fear, dread or be scared of.

All wheat in North America is GMO free.

Let me repeat…..

All wheat in North America is GMO free.  

You can buy bread from any bakery in North America and it is going to be GMO free.  In case you are interested I am not sure where in the world you would buy a loaf of GMO inclusive bread.

Please hold these kind of marketing campaigns accountable and begin to actually have discussions with consumers.  Companies like Chipotle and Cobs cannot be successful using such marketing tactics.  Your choice is to decide whether you believe in the real story or just another marketing campaign that is dishonest about the product farmers produce. You decide.

Update: Cobs Bakery responds on Facebook (tip of the hat to Sarah Schultz):

Hi everyone, thank you all for your comments. The most important message we intended to convey in this counter card is that 100% of our wheat is sourced from Alberta farms. Regarding the messaging about GMO-free, we are constantly asked by our customers whether or not our wheat is GMO. We had no intention to have a position on GMO-free or not and were proivding an answer a question that customers were asking. Based on your feedback, we will revise the positioning of this message to be more educational, as we intended. Our main purpose was to emphasize that all of our flour is sourced from Alberta farms.

23 thoughts on “When Will the Food Marketing Madness Stop? Cobs Bakery Misleads Consumers

  1. Always a stickler for rules, I did some reading. The following is from Chapter 4 of Canada’s Guide to Food Labelling and Advertising:

    “As well, a negative statement should not create a false impression that the product is uniquely different from other similar products. For example, when a class of foods is inherently free of a substance or where it is not permitted by Regulation to contain the substance, this must be made clear. A claim that the substance is absent will be considered misleading unless it is appropriately qualified by a statement to the effect that the claim is not unique to the food but is common to all foods of the same class [5(1), FDA].
    “Rationale: If a claim is made that a substance is absent from a food where the Regulations do not permit it to be added or where it is inherently absent from the food and all other similar foods of the same class, it infers a false uniqueness and gives an unfair advantage to that food. It also infers that other similar foods contain the ingredient or substance.”

    Because the example provided seems to indicate that the wheat, only, is GMO free, I would tend to agree with your concerns. If, however, the entire product was made sans GMOs (while comparable products were not), and was labelled as such, I would have a hard time arguing it inappropriate.

    Perhaps this particular label should actually read: “Wheat is GMO-free and the 100%-wheat flour used in our bakeries is grown and milled in Alberta.”

      1. “Pepsi, choice of the new generation” Remember that? “Coke, it’s the real thing”. I don’t like Pepsi, but I really want to be part of the new generation! Oh no, am I old fashioned, what to do?

        Marketing campaigns have often been on the edge of pure fact since forever. Thankfully, I don’t make my food buying decision based on marketing campaigns or pretty pictures on labels. We are all responsible for our buying decisions, all it takes is a little research. In this day and age, its not that hard.

        Pure facts and only pure facts in marketing is an unattainable dream. Has never been that way, why start now?


    1. Even wheat is GMO free, it doesn’t mean that our bread is GMO free, every loaf i’ve been reading label contains corn and soy, which are 96% GMO. So i wouldn’t call our bread GMO free. I go organic to be safe.

  2. Aside from the legal side of things that @RealAg_Debra pointed out, while the marketing is misleading, they aren’t saying a lie either. This type of advertising in really nothing new, as other products such as fruit have been marketed as Fat Free, and Gluten Free when inherently they already are. The question is, since the statement is not technically a falsehood, does it mislead consumers by inferring that other breads made with wheat are genetically modified, or does it educate consumers who are looking for GMO free foods and don’t know the updated list of what foods are and aren’t genetically modified? In this particular case, instead of saying “The flour used in our bakery is grown and milled in Alberta and is GMO-Free.”, I would suggest “The flour used in our bakery is grown and milled in Alberta, and our breads are GMO-Free”. Of course, that would depend on whether the other ingredients in the bread are in fact GMO-Free as well of the wheat.

  3. So here’s another thought. Why get upset that they market their wheat as gmo free? Everyone is busy trying to differentiate their product and so should we all. If we look at the bright side, they are marketing Alberta Wheat! Maybe rather than get upset every time a company makes a marketing move, we should be more focused on marketing our own brands. Example, this product was grown on a farm that employs sustainable farming practices (name it and define it). We use zero-tillage that preserves and enhances soils and biological diversity, we use pulses that fix nitrogen, we use high yielding varieties with genetic makeups that allows us to grow more on less land, we employ integrated pest management strategies that are based on minimizing the use of pesticides….

    I’m suggesting that we should focus our energy on branding and marketing the great things that are going on in agriculture rather then letting our blood pressure rise every time we hear a supposed marketing atrocity. Sorry if that sounds harsh Shaun. You da man and I appreciate the frustration that you and many farmers have when perception is abused. So let’s do something about it! I’m game!

    1. I love that they’re marketing Alberta wheat, IMO they should stick to that. I think that labeling GMOs brings up red flags and has a negative connotation. But I’ve been communicating and they’re going to focus on educating vs. labeling as “GMO free”.

      “We had no intention to have a position on GMO-free or not and were proivding an answer a question that customers were asking. Based on your feedback, we will revise the positioning of this message to be more educational, as we intended. Our main purpose was to emphasize that all of our flour is sourced from Alberta farms.” — COBS Bread Facebook Page

  4. It is no different than Miller Genuine Draft marketing their beer as “cold filtered” when generally all filtered beers are cold filtered. It is just highlighting truths that might lead the buyer to make certain assumptions if they don’t know better.

  5. I’ve been communicating with them since last night. Updates here per their Facebook page:

    “We had no intention to have a position on GMO-free or not and were proivding an answer a question that customers were asking. Based on your feedback, we will revise the positioning of this message to be more educational, as we intended. Our main purpose was to emphasize that all of our flour is sourced from Alberta farms.”

    Good on them.


  6. That wheat was found in ONE field and no where else. No GMO wheat had been raised in that close to there and none in Oregon for over 4 years. It seems that somehow a small amount found it’s way into a field where it would be easily found, just before a GMO labeling election was held in Washington state.

    Seems odd to me.

  7. Although this is a straight out dishonest marketing campaign, to say there is absolutely no GM wheat in North America is just as preposterous. Did people not see the media present the findings of a GM wheat field in Oregon? Or how about the two hundred acres found in North Dakota? That is just the tip of the iceburg. To think that the same GM what hasn’t contaminated more fields all across America would just be plain ignorance. They just do not test for GM wheat like they do corn and soybeans. Very typical biotech company using a smoke screen to get across what they really want to say, which is “the is absolutely no GM wheat!”. There may be stupid people in this world, but there are alot of intelligent people that you are not fooling!

    1. There really isn’t any, the little bit that was found was established to be blow over from a test plot that was scrapped in 2005. While there are some test plots to develop new varieties there is no plan to make any seed available to farmers until 2017.

      I suspect that new varieties being tested in plots right now will be for varieties of wheat that can withstand drought and frost, increase yields and have higher protein levels. all important advancements in the natural evolution of agriculture.

      Perhaps it would be more accurate to say there is no gm wheat commercially available to any industry. either way the advertising that claims their bread if GM free is misleading at best, furthermore books and articles that tell the public that they may have a gluten sensitivity because of GM wheat are outright lies.

  8. I’m all for market differentiation, but not when there is no difference to market. This is only the latest example of rampant “non-GMO” labeling on products that have no GE counterpart (and in some cases, no genes to modify in the first place!). The best way to end all this confusion, in my opinion, is mandatory labeling: http://t.co/vtNPU2hs4T

  9. Like it or not, the customer is king. And retailers know that. The true madness would be to ignore that fact. The winners of the future will be those who are market-driven, not production-driven.
    For having spent many years as a marketer in production-driven ag industries, I know the disconnect too well. I also know that what retailers want, they get.
    There is no GMO wheat in North America… for now. US bakers expect it to arrive (World Grain | Bakers Bioengineered wheat coming soon http://www.world-grain.com/News/News%20Home/World%20Grain%20News/2014/2/Bakers%20Bioengineered%20wheat%20coming%20soon.aspx). Differentiation will then become quite relevant. Then it will be a matter of whether the current suppliers of Cobs still want to be in the loop or not. That will be a business choice.

  10. There certainly could be GMO in the bread, via the sugar or oils used. Of course the wheat is GMO free, but not necessarily the finished bread.

    The same arguments for the GMO free wheat could be made about the 100% Alberta wheat claim. What’s wrong with Saskatchewan wheat? Is it implied that it is somehow inferior to Alberta wheat? I recall Canadian A&W’s commercials would claim to use 100% Canadian Beef, while American commercials claimed 100% American beef. If consumers are moved by such a claim to purchase the product, then it is worth their time to differentiate their beef supply. The country of origin commercials are now replaced with the ‘hormone and steroid free’ claims. So customers’ preferences are shifting to care more about what is in the food as opposed to where it came from, so there is more money to be made making a GMO claim vs country of origin.

    As far as GMO labelling goes, I prefer companies exclaim when they don’t have it, and assume the financial cost of verifying their claims, as opposed to mandatory labelling, based on consumer preference and a cost/benefit analysis. I think the labelling of all goods does more to propagate the misinformation and ignorance.

  11. I agree with Justin, #truthiness in advertising! should farmers have to pay for producing wholesome nutritious reasonably priced food in a sustainable way? Perhaps labels shouldn’t mention GMO at all unless it is supposedly GMO free. (remember yeast and other ingredients)Should all consumers have to pay for this, or perhaps only the few that want this information? Remember that Canada is a free country with many different reasonable food choices made available by modern agriculture. I have no problem with those who choose to consume organic or GMO free, etc. My problem is with those such as Chipotle and others who portray farmers as irresponsible people who are slaves to evil companies such as Monsanto. As a consumer, you should read labels carefully , even at your Organic suppliers. I took a look at an organic restaurant menu lately, it claimed that their food choices were over “70% organic”. Some crops such as apple trees, banana plants, would be very easy to produce organic produce. Cereal grains are tougher to produce organically. I wonder what % of their menu is really organic.

  12. The good news is that we live in such a time of plenty that we can afford to be picky! But, I expect more of this to go on. If you don’t follow some foodie blogs you need to. This has been going on for several years and farmers have been pooh-poohing it for just as long. I am not so sure that we aren’t on the verge of hitting a critical mass that is tipping the scale. Farmers, and ag businesses, have been fooling themselves that they could “educate” the populace and win the battle! Maybe not so much. When I worked in politics and the candidate started crying about needing to “just educate” people, I was usually looking for the exit door!

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