Is Chobani Yogurt Really “Natural”?
A Team USA Olympic sponsor, Chobani, takes the gold among yogurts in sales, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. It holds the largest share of the overall U.S. yogurt market with 17 percent and the Greek yogurt segment with 50 percent. Sales are expected to reach $1 billion this year.
“Americans have become more health-conscious and are swapping sugary mixtures for Greek yogurt,” writes Meghan Walsh for Bloomberg Businessweek. But those who buy Chobani aren’t getting what they’re paying for.
Just about every food that’s produced on a mass scale is diminished in quality, with manufacturers consistently cutting corners to make more money. (In many other businesses, that may be okay, but when the business in question makes your food, you have to wonder.) Chobani yogurts, likewise, aren’t as natural and wholesome as the company claims them to be and as many consumers would like to believe they are.
As reported on FoodNavigator-USA.com, this past May a lawsuit was filed against the yogurt manufacturer, contesting its use of the terms “evaporated cane juice,” “all natural ingredients” and “only natural ingredients” on its labels.
Notwithstanding the fact that the use of the term “evaporated cane juice” is proliferating across all categories of food, the FDA in fact considers it to be “false and misleading.” The agency’s “current policy is that sweeteners derived from sugar cane syrup should not be declared as ‘evaporated cane juice’ because that term falsely suggests that the sweeteners are juice.” It is a representation that fails “to reveal the basic nature of the food and its characterizing properties (i.e., that the ingredients are sugars or syrups).” Of course, that’s the whole point, as far as the industry is concerned; food manufacturers don’t want consumers to realize that evaporated cane juice is just another type of sugar or syrup. Evaporated cane juice undergoes fewer steps in processing than refined white sugar, but both are derived from sugar cane.
A 6 oz. serving of Chobani strawberry yogurt contains 19 grams of sugar, of which nearly 12 are presumed to be from evaporated cane juice (strawberries likely contribute around one gram), with the other seven from sugars in milk. So roughly one-third of the total calories comes from a processed sugar/syrup that’s been added to the yogurt.
As for Chobani’s claims that it uses all or only “natural ingredients” in its yogurts, consider the fact that natural flavors and locust bean gum are found in every flavor and variety the company produces, with the exception of plain and honey.
To me, “natural flavors” instantly signifies a fake and processed food. It’s true that natural flavors, by definition, have to be derived from some natural sources, but they are otherwise invented and concocted by chemists in laboratories at so-called flavor factories, just like their “artificial” counterparts. For Chobani strawberry yogurt, for example, a strawberry-flavored powder or liquid is probably mixed in with the token strawberries at the bottom. It makes you wonder what’s wrong with the actual strawberries that they don’t taste strawberry enough.
Perhaps the processing, handling and storage to which they’re subjected have leached them of their strawberry-ness. For more on flavor additives and the flavor industry, check out the chapter on “Why McDonald’s Fries Taste So Good” in Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, the New Yorker article on “The Taste Makers” and this report from New Jersey Monthly.
Locust bean gum is a thickener that Chobani adds to its yogurts to simulate the mouthfeel, texture and consistency of authentic Greek yogurt.
In short, with additives like natural flavors and locust bean gum, Chobani yogurts are designed to impersonate fruit-filled Greek yogurts, which, in addition, happen to be sweetened by a benign substance known as evaporated cane juice. Whatever the industry says, whatever government agencies might allow, Chobani’s fruit-flavored yogurts, in my opinion, should neither be labeled nor regarded as “natural.”