Wakaberry

New SA consumer watchdog has natural-organic products in its sights

Many food marketing sceptics would say of this development: “About time!” Introducing TOPIC (Testing of Products Initiated by Consumers), a new consumer-led organisation that aims to test the authenticity of natural and organic products on SA’s shelves. It’s already boasting a scalp: getting frozen yoghurt chain, Wakaberry, to drop the claim that it uses only organic milk.

TOPIC explains its mission thus:

Mislabelling and food fraud are rife. It is estimated that more than a third of products on our shelves are falsely labelled. For most small retailers, testing products is not an option because they don’t have the resources.

Food and product label claims such as “natural”, “organic”, “biodegradable”, “ethical”, “sustainable” and “non-toxic” are almost completely unregulated. For most consumers there’s a real need for transparency and peace of mind.

Consumers will be aware of the recent meat, gluten, milk, fish and Omega oil supplement scandals. “Buyer beware” still very much applies.

There is currently no organisation testing consumer products and protecting the consumer from false or misleading claims.

TOPIC is a consumer-led organisation that has been formed to fill this gap. Funded by consumers and retailers that are committed to transparency, TOPIC uses laboratory testing as well as farm and factory visits to verify that ingredients are verified and label claims are accurate.

TOPIC follows a clear process, from choosing which product to test to publishing results. Being a consumer-led organisation makes it possible for TOPIC to be completely transparent in all of its processes.

Since its launch in October 2014, spokesperson Peter Becker [who and what is he? Ed] says TOPIC has been met with overwhelming support from consumers and media alike. “Our first investigation has been a success for consumers and consumer choice activists,” he notes on an investigation into its November 2014 Nomination : Wakaberry Frozen Yoghurt.

The TOPIC newsletter reports:
TOPIC Finding : Wakaberry does not use organic milk
In October 2014 Wakaberry was our most nominated product on social media and via our anonymous nomination email ([email protected]). By the middle of November TOPIC announced that as our first investigation we would research claims by nationwide frozen-yoghurt franchise, Wakaberry, that their milk products were organic and sourced from free-range dairy farms.
Wakaberry’s in-store branding reads: “cows on organic farms produce fresh milk” and marketing material explicitly states: “our milk comes from free-range farms”. These messages have been a prominent part of Wakaberry’s marketing campaign since the company’s launch in 2011. At TOPIC we were interested in finding out if their claim to use “certified organic farms” was true.
Numerous websites advertise that Wakaberry source their milk from certified organic farms. See below from Wakaberry’s blog :

Many references to Wakaberry’s “Certified Organic” status still appear online as can be seen by clicking on this link.

The TOPIC team wrote to the Wakaberry head-office requesting information that would enable us to verify their ‘organic’ and ‘free range’ claims. Wakaberry subsequently replied that “[they] no longer claim to use organic certified dairy farms.”
Within a week of us writing to Wakaberry, the word ‘organic’ had been removed from their website.
We concluded that at the time we wrote to Wakaberry they were using non-organic milk. They have not indicated that they have any plans to use organic milk in their frozen yoghurt in the future.
We also inquired about their free-range claims, asking whether the ‘free-range’ label applies only to milk or also to other milk products that they use, such as whey powder, skimmed milk powder and buttermilk powder. We were told by Wakaberry (on 18 November) that our questions have been forwarded to their supplier(s) and that they would get back to us.
Since then we have sent a follow-up letter and are still awaiting any substantive response.
“TOPIC takes the approach of cooperating with suppliers and working together towards more accurate labelling,” says TOPIC spokesperson Peter Becker. “However, this is not possible when faced with unresponsiveness or evasiveness, so we look forward to further cooperation from Wakaberry”.
“We have good reason to believe that many products in South Africa are mislabelled ‘organic’, ‘free-range’, ‘non-GMO’, ‘preservative free’, and so on, without any basis in fact. We invite consumers to visit our website topic.org.za and nominate products to be investigated.”
TOPIC also advises any suppliers who are falsely labelling their products to ensure this is corrected, before they become the subject of a consumer-led investigation.
December 2014 Nomination : Woolworths Organic Milk
Woolworth’s organic milk tallied the next highest number of votes after Wakaberry, as of the middle of December. TOPIC will be engaging with Woolworths and conducting investigations. On behalf of consumers, we demand the right to know about organic dairy practices in South Africa.
TOPIC invites anonymous product nominations that will roll-over from month to month which means that no votes are lost along the way. Again quoting its newsletter:

Any nomination that is sent in via social media or anonymously via [email protected] remains on our list and the product with the highest cumulative total is chosen every month.
To date some of the other nominations include Karan beef, Wild Organics, Agave Nectar South Africa and various Woolworths’ products, including their free-range beef, chicken and eggs, as well as their organic chocolate.
Consumers are also querying the GMO status of products such as Future Life and Cocoá Fair organic chocolate. We encourage you, the public, to continue to nominate products so that ethical and honest labeling can prevail.

Details of TOPIC’s funding are sketchy, other than what its website says: “As a grass-roots, consumer-led organisation, TOPIC is completely dependent on funding from like-minded consumers as well as those truly ethical retailers who are prepared to put their money where their mouths are by supporting truthful labelling.”

See more at http://www.topic.org.za/home

Since our launch in October 2014, TOPIC (An acronym for Testing of Products Initiated by Consumers) has been met with overwhelming support from consumers and media alike. Our first investigation has been a success for consumers and consumer choice activists.

TOPIC Interview Capetalk 2015

Empowering consumers to make informed choices has never been more relevant as mislabeling is rife and South African shoppers alone are tasked with questioning the legitimacy of labels and marketing terms. It is imperative that consumers have a tool with which to query these, often opaque, highly technical or simply unsubstantiated, terms (like “organic”, “free-range” or “natural”).

November 2014 Nomination : Wakaberry Frozen Yoghurt

TOPIC Finding : Wakaberry does not use organic milk

In October 2014 Wakaberry was our most nominated product on social media and via our anonymous nomination email ([email protected]). By the middle of November TOPIC announced that as our first investigation we would research claims by nationwide frozen-yoghurt franchise, Wakaberry, that their milk products were organic and sourced from free range dairy farms.

Wakaberry’s in-store branding reads: “cows on organic farms produce fresh milk” and marketing material explicitly states: “our milk comes from free-range farms”. These messages have been a prominent part of Wakaberry’s marketing campaign since the company’s launch in 2011. At TOPIC we were interested in finding out if their claim to use “certified organic farms” was true.

Numerous websites advertise that Wakaberry source their milk from certified organic farms. See below from Wakaberry’s blog :

Wakaberry 1

Many references to Wakaberry’s “Certified Organic” status still appear online as can be seen by clicking on this link.

The TOPIC team wrote to the Wakaberry head-office requesting information that would enable us to verify their ‘organic’ and ‘free range’ claims. Wakaberry subsequently replied that “[they] no longer claim to use organic certified dairy farms.”

Within a week of us writing to Wakaberry, the word ‘organic’ had been removed from their website.

We concluded that at the time we wrote to Wakaberry they were using non-organic milk.  They have not indicated that they have any plans to use organic milk in their frozen yoghurt in the future.

We also inquired about their free-range claims, asking whether the ‘free-range’ label applies only to milk or also to other milk products that they use, such as whey powder, skimmed milk powder and buttermilk powder. We were told by Wakaberry (on 18 November) that our questions have been forwarded to their supplier(s) and that they would get back to us.

Since then we have sent a follow-up letter and are still awaiting any substantive response.

“TOPIC takes the approach of cooperating with suppliers and working together towards more accurate labelling,” says TOPIC spokesperson Peter Becker. “However, this is not possible when faced with unresponsiveness or evasiveness, so we look forward to further cooperation from Wakaberry”.

“We have good reason to believe that many products in South Africa are mislabelled ‘organic’, ‘free-range’, ‘non-GMO’, ‘preservative free’, and so on, without any basis in fact. We invite consumers to visit our website topic.org.za and nominate products to be investigated.”

TOPIC also advises any suppliers who are falsely labelling their products to ensure this is corrected, before they become the subject of a consumer-led investigation.

December 2014 Nomination : Woolworths Organic Milk

Woolworth’s organic milk tallied the next highest number of votes after Wakaberry, as of the middle of December. TOPIC will be engaging with Woolworths and conducting investigations. On behalf of consumers, we demand the right to know about organic dairy practices in South Africa.

Your TOPIC Nominations Accumulate

Nominations roll-over from month to month which means that no votes are lost along the way. Any nomination that is sent in via social media or anonymously via [email protected] remains on our list and the product with the highest cumulative total is chosen every month.

To date some of the other nominations include Karan beef, Wild Organics, Agave Nectar South Africa and various Woolworths’ products, including their free-range beef, chicken and eggs, as well as their organic chocolate.

Consumers are also querying the GMO status of products such as Future Life and Cocoá Fair organic chocolate. We encourage you, the public, to continue to nominate products so that ethical and honest labeling can prevail.