Who is trying to kill you?

We all thought we were safe from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, it turns out.. not so much.

Earlier in the year (June) the FDA’s rule banning partially hydrogenated Vegetable oils went into place. It had been announced long before the date & responsible companies moved away from it.

The FDA was taking partially hydrogenated vegetable oils off the “GRAS” list. GRAS stands for “Generally Regarded as Safe”, if a substance is not on the list” it is banned. Banned means the government thinks it is bad for you, unsafe to eat.

In the chocolate industry one company was still using it in the month before the ban was first schedule to be implemented, later attempts to get an ingredients list proved fruitless.

Quietly the Feds extended the deadline. while the upcoming ban was widely known, someone managed to convince the Feds to allow them to continue to make items with partially hydrogenated Vegetable oils up till the deadline & allow others to use them as long as they were originally made before the deadline.

Don’t believe us? Here is the new schedule:


So how did that happen .. or why..?
As far as the why there are several possibilities, one is a long term purchase agreement, if a US company agreed to buy the now banned oils over a span of years at a fixed price they would have no way out of the contract. It could happen.

Another possibility is that it was a political favor.. someone donated to a campaign or inauguration event and somehow extensions were made to the deadlines. Like magic…

However it happened: someone had to ask for it. Who?

Who is still using it and why?

They knew the ingredient was no considered safe & were still using it a month before the original ban, (they really must not like moms).

Are they still using it?

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All About Overnight Shipping

All about overnight shipping:
We ship our highly perishable products, like chocolate covered strawberries, with planned overnight service because the less time they are in transit (the back of a truck) the better.

Priority Overnight: (By Air)
For most of the country that means delivery before 10:30AM Monday through Friday
For Saturdays, when it is available, it’s generally before 2pm
It is the only service available to extreme rural areas and for them delivery is generally before 4:30PM

Standard Overnight: (by Air)
For most of the Country    
          To a Business: Generally before 3:30PM               
          To a Residence: Before end of day (can be very late at night)  

Overnight Ground: When this is shown as an option it means you are fairly close to us, the delivery costs are much lower because your gift does not have to fly to be delivered. The times are in line with Standard Overnight.  

For our less perishable products, when the temperatures are low enough that they will not melt the chocolate, we offer multi day service, but right now it is just too hot for that.  

What about “Express“?
Other companies use this term to hide that they are not using “Overnight”. Your strawberries can’t be fresh when they have been on a truck for a few days.

The methods we use can be limited by the weather.

How hot has it got?:

National weather map - high temps

Pic source weather.gov

The colors are their color codes, we’d rather it was blue or purple nationwide.

Right now for much of the country the peak is 90 Degrees or above, a delivery that sits on someone porch for a few hours may not be the best idea.

Best solutions:

  1. Always let them know a perishable package is coming.
  2. Delivery to a Business address is sooner & keeps it out of the heat.
  3. Delivery trucks generally do not have air conditioning, if it is really hot out choose Priority Overnight.

When it gets like this we use much larger gel packs to help prevent ruined shipments & don’t charge a surcharge for it (others have), that being said, it is really hard to have a package sit on a porch for hours in 90 to 100 degree heat. This is food, not a set of sneakers, so if they get too warm things go wrong.

Why not use dry ice? We get asked that a lot. First off it is too cold, it would freeze the berries & they would turn to mush when they thawed. Secondly it is a hazardous material, displacing oxygen as it melts, too many packages doing that in a truck or plane can be fatal, the carriers charge much more for shipments that use it and limit how many packages can have it in a vehicle. Thirdly if you handle it wrong you can get instant frostbite, having someone not read the instructions and letting a child play with it (or eat it) is far too much of a risk. Sorry, dry ice is the worst possible solution. (but if you know what you are doing.. it is fun to play with)

What about the chip (solid state) based cooling?
It is just not ready for this type of use yet, while the chip may cool: batteries and fans are needed to run it, so either that all gets added to a landfill or it has to be returned to us. (What happens when it is not returned? Who gets the bill?). Maybe we’ll use this down the line but it’s not ready for this type of use right now.

Other carrier news:
The carriers are saying they are going to be doing Sunday deliveries starting January of next year, we are watching what they do. In some of the other initiatives they didn’t have complete coverage of the country, just the major cities and the surrounding areas. When we know we’ll let you know.  

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White vs Vanilla

It’s not like they didn’t know any better.

On June 26th a number of people sued Hershey’s Company over deceptive labeling of calling something “White” when similar products were labeled “Milk Chocolate” & “Dark Chocolate”. You can read the details here: https://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/hersheys-co-sued-misleading-white-reeses

First some basic facts:
The FDA writes the rules for what can be called “White Chocolate”, “Milk Chocolate”, and “Semisweet Chocolate” (which has the same definition as “Bittersweet Chocolate”. Certain ingredients, in specific proportions are required to use those protected names. With “White Chocolate” the one unique required ingredient is cocoa butter, it comes from the pod as the cocoa solids you find in the Milk and Semisweet.

Some of you may have noticed that I used the term Semisweet instead of “Dark” above and that is because “Dark” has no FDA protected name & most of what everyone calls ” “Dark” is really Semisweet legally. Dark by itself has no protected status, while the phrase “Dark Chocolate” falls under the protected status only for the use of the word “Chocolate” (basically it means something from the cocoa bean is in there (cocoa solids, cocoa powder..)

Back on track:
So they used the word “White” in their labeling, why?
White is a color, they didn’t say the protected phrase “White Chocolate” so what is the problem?

White is not a flavor, it’s a color when used outside of its protected use. So they didn’t actually break the FDA rules. But why call it white when the flavor is vanilla?

That is the problem, historically companies have been allowed to get away with this confusing labeling, no one enforced it because the federal agencies had other things to do. A competitor of ours (who uses fake chocolate) says their product is dipped in “Milk”, of course it is not milk chocolate, but it is also not cows milk which is the real regulation they are breaking in that case. The FTC/FDA have not enforced the rules, so it is left to consumers (and their lawyers) to get the companies to play by the rules (really they are an easy target as they have lied about what the product is dipped in for over a decade).

So what does it all mean?

  1. White chocolate is a real product (no matter what the uneducated say)
  2. Vanilla is the correct flavor description, why call it white at all?
  3. The Bittersweet chocolate bars are labeled dark (a problem for those that brought the lawsuit because dark chocolate is not legally defined).
  4. Did the company benefit from labeling a vanilla product “white”?
  5. When similar products were labeled “milk chocolate” & “dark chocolate” how is the consumer supposed to know that the vanilla product labeled “white” is not “white chocolate”?
  6. There was no reason to use “white” at all unless they wanted it to be clumped in with the other products that used real chocolate.
  7. A lot of other companies have legal exposure to this same problem, (free money to all those that get there first).

What should be done by the FDA to limit this type of thing?
For the confectionary industry:

  1. Limit the use of “white” when it is not white chocolate.
  2. Change the group defination of “Sweet Chocolate” to “Dark Chocolate”, there are already common sense exclusions that cover things like ‘dark chocolate cake’ so there will be no impact on the marketplace and it closes loopholes used by the unethical.

It’s not the first time Hershey’s has been questioned on it’s use of “White Chocolate”, we questioned them on its use in a Milk product several years ago, questions were sent to the FDA (I really have not seen the product since & look in every grocery store I visit) but I never heard back.

It’s just an educated guess, but I think they will end up paying out on this, it may be a settlement (denying liability), with a nice payout for the lawyers, $5-10k for the named defendants and a coupon for a free product to everyone else.

Hershey and the trade dress are the intellectual property and  trademarks of The Hershey Company.

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Shortcuts to Ruin

You want fresh authentic chocolate covered strawberries.
Then why would you expect that when you are shopping by price?

Here is an example of what that causes:
Company “A” buys company “B”, it cost them a lot of money that they want back, so sales have to increase.

  • To increase sales they have to lower the price & advertise more.
  • Lower costs
  • Increase production
  • Cheaper delivery
  • Increase the number of customers

Lowering costs:
Of course company “A” is not going to start with the number of board members, they rarely think of themselves as cost, and management rairly bases their compensation solely on performance.

They cut costs in materials, first by trying to get a better deal on supplies, then by lowering the standards those supplies need to meet.

In the food industry those supplies are called ingredients. Sometimes (when there is just a minor price difference) to sources would be equivalent, but when there is a major price drop something is really different. With chocolate that difference is “cocoa butter” and to lower the costs the cocoa butter (really expensive stuff) is replaced with something less expensive. The less expensive coating can not legally be called chocolate, but they have advertised it as such for so long they coast along and people still think it’s chocolate.

So the coating is the first place they are going to cut corners, even if the replacement is later flagged by the government as unsafe (it happened), but where else can they cut corners? Obviously the other ingredients (like the strawberries themselves), older, damaged, and less quality control in general are all going to lower the costs.

Increased production:
When production increases you either have to get more space, run things faster, automate, or put on more shifts. Getting more space is expensive, new sites, new equipment more costs at every level. Running this faster means possibly less time spent on quality control, after all if no one is inspecting the ingredients or the final product then less gets rejected and they just handle the failures after the fact (outsourced to a third world country). Automation can be done if you change the product, in this case the leaves are stripped off when they are picked, they are dumped into vats of the fake coating and the part of the process that requires people is significantly reduced. Of course leafless berries that are being shown in the ads, that’s handled in the fine print. Putting on more shifts is an easy one, especially if you’ve increased automation and are pre-dipping and shipping from pre-made inventory. Shipping from inventory means the product is not as fresh, but if things really go wrong that is what they have liability insurance for.

Cheaper Delivery:
The carriers raise their rates 3 – 4 % every year, they never deliver nationwide packages for free. When you are shipping nationwide, overnight is expensive & some customers do not want to pay to pay a realistic shipping rate because they have been ordering shoes online that ship for free. Think about that for a second, they are comparing the shipping for a non-perishable product, one that can sit in a regional warehouse for a year and not change, to the overnight shipping required to keep a strawberry fresh. So where do they cut corners? Instead of shipping with overnight they use “express”, so they have changed from one day in transit to 2 or 3 days in the back of a truck. Add that 2 or 3 days to the fact they are pre-dipped and sitting in inventory, just how old are those strawberries? You can bet no one else would call them fresh. Because they are not as fresh they are leaking a lot of juice, so they modified the packaging, put holes in the bottom of the tray and the equivalent of a meat blood pack underneath, from an engineering standpoint it hides a lot that is going on.

Increase customers:

Basically at any price, they have reduced quality, freshness, have said the product was chocolate when it was not.. and have a huge amount of debt they need to pay off from buying the company.

So how?
Ads lots of ads, you may have noticed the big radio show hosts pushing them, do they get the same quality product that a normal customer would? Don’t bet on it, the images online of what the hosts got and what customers got do not match up at all. You have to remember that the hosts make money based on the advertising sold on their show and some just want the money (even if they do know that the product is not really as good as they claim).

False ads: did you know one year they got caught running ads that said competitors were sold out?

Letting affiliates run false ads. Affiliates are 3rd party marketers that get paid if a product sells from a link the affiliate provides. But there really is not any control of when an affiliate lies or bends the truth. You may see an ad that says “free shipping”, “gourmet white chocolate” or “30% off coupon” and while the keywords are on the affiliates web site, the deal, product or offer does not exist. Affiliates are notorious for posting offers without the needed context (good only on one product, expires date..), but they got you to the site so they get money.

Fake “free shipping” offers, they actually did this twice. Their customers said that they were signed up, without their consent, up for a service that billed them monthly under the guise of “free shipping”. No free shipping actually existed. The customers sued and it was settled out of court. The liability insurance company really didn’t like that the company had pulled the same stunt again and tried to seperate themselves from the liability of the case (paying off the customers claims). Think about that one, the company screwed up or lied the first time and because someone else was paying for it they did it again, basically running an ad with someone else’s money. Why fix the problem when someone else if paying for it?

This company has been bought and sold a number of times, each time did the debt load grow? Did a new group of bean counters cut corners to try to pay off the debt with each new acquisition?

People who search for the lowest possible price without doing the research on the company have really hurt a lot of the ethical competitors.

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Why you want Chocolate Strawberries Delivered Overnight

We often talk about using overnight service to protect the strawberries in transit. It is not just that they are fresher that way. A resource we found is the Twitter user @sharis_fails they are collecting problem reports from Twitter users that have received Shari’s Berries® shipments that did not go well, based on the pictures and reports some of these shipments are dangerous.

These are just a few of many problem reports, there were other that showed the mold, more with melted chocolate, crushed shipments and obviously old fruit. The mold is certainly disturbing, it clearly shows that the fruit was not dipped yesterday or even the day before, it simply is not fresh and may eventually hurt someone.

But why?

From what we know of the industry there are three types of problems here:

  1. The founder of the brand (who is no longer involved with the company) has said that they are being dipped days ahead of time, and their own tweets say they are pulled from inventory..
  2. Spending too long in transit. We’ve done test shipments and it looks like they are giving the packages first to long haul truckers who then drops them off  at a carrier hub within the two day delivery area.
  3. Since almost all of the failed shipments are the leafless (machine dipped) versions, if the berries are properly inspected & washed or treated with a bio-wash: mold should not really be a problem . The strawberries are completely dipped and the mold was under that dip so it was not contaminated after dip .

Of course mold is not the only problem with old fruit, even if there is no mold the fruit is going to go bad, get soft.. in other words not be fresh.

Long times in transit (not overnight) opens up the gift to other possible problems.

  1.  Gel packs fail and things melt
  2. 2+ days in the back of a truck is a lot of bumps the package has to take.
  3. The longer it’s on the road the higher the chance there will be delays.
  4. You saved a few dollars on shipping but now your package has a higher chance of failure and is nowhere near as fresh, (is it their fault or yours? (both)).

Currently the parent company is in bankruptcy and looking to sell off it’s parts. The time to fix the root causes of these problems has passed. They simply don’t have the time or money now to fix it.

Can their problems be fixed, yes, but not using the current methods. Cutting corners in food does not work with perishable products & the more corners you cut the further you get from gourmet.

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Keeping berries freshest overnight

Yes, chocolate covered strawberries can be stored in a refrigerator for a day:

For the best results you must start with fresh chocolate covered strawberries, the berries from other companies that have spent multiple days in transit are not fresh.

Method one:
If space is not a problem, you can put the gift boxes in a new kitchen trash bag, squeeze out the air and tie it off.

Method Two:
This saves space. Using the smallest airtight container that they will fit in, place the berries in multiple layers, separated by wax paper.

Method Three:
For when you have a lot of berries, use clean pizza boxes and either bag them or double wrap the boxes in plastic wrap. Offer to pay for the boxes if you ask a pizza shop for them (it shows some class). Pizza boxes will let you get a very high amount of chocolate covered strawberries on one shelf.

For all methods: make sure your refrigerator is not set too cold. We do not want to freeze them as then they will bet mushy when they thaw.

At least a half hour to 45 minutes before they are going to be served take the package out of the refrigerator but do not open it yet (that causes condensation), let them warm up a bit, but keep them away from all the heat sources in the kitchen. Just before they are going to be served put them on the trays or plates and enjoy. Some strawberry juice is normal, chocolate contracts when it hardens an as a result the chocolate has been squeezing the berry.

Why the bags, airtight containers or plastic wrap? Most home refrigerators use the freezer to cool the refrigerated sections, that process sucks moisture out of the leaves, they can actually get very brittle overnight. If the leaves get limp or brittle they probably got too cold. There is a lot of moisture floating around in a home fridge and it can really hurt chocolates appearance. More moisture can get let in when the door opens, or when other food is put in. Isolating the berries prevents all the main problems with too much or too little moisture and also helps prevent the chocolate from picking up odors from other things in the fridge.

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The White Chocolate Con: Part 3, Hershey should have known better

Of all the companies out there you would think that a US based chocolate company would know what has to be in a product in order for it to be called “White Chocolate”, don’t bet on it, sometimes they get sloppy. Continue reading »

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How I did it: 3D Stuffed Chocolate Christmas Tree

Since my off work acquaintances get all the test product I make up (there is a limit to how much I can eat) sometimes I want to make up something totally different, this past Christmas was one of those occasions. These acquaintances are used to some really different things, stuffed berries, chocolate covered gummy worms, things totally out of season like Berries for Valentines pictures in October. This year I wanted to do a 3-d mold… Continue reading »

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The White Chocolate Con: Part 2

In the last post we wrote about how “White Chocolate” is something real, and mis-use of the term is not something to mess with.   If you have not read the previous post you can do so here https://blog.ccberries.com/2014/11/08/the-white-chocolate-con-part-1/

Basically I found that a worldwide fast food restaurant was incorrectly using the regulated term “white chocolate”, Continue reading »

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The White Chocolate Con: Part 1

What if we told you a major restaurant chain was falsely advertising that a product contained White Chocolate when in fact the ingredients list shows it’s not White Chocolate? Continue reading »

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