False Advertising: Making a Federal Case out of Heinz Chili Sauce

Written by Jill Chapin. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on January 22, 2011 with 14 Comments

Caveat emptor: Heinz appears to be engaging in a practice of false advertising. The contents of its labeled "12 oz" Chili Sauce weighs just 8 oz.

By Jill Chapin

January 22, 2011

On Dec 31, I prepared an appetizer for a New Year’s Eve party that called for 8 ounces of chili sauce. I bought a Heinz 12 ounce bottle and proceeded to pour 8 ounces into a measuring cup, with the intention of saving the remaining 4 ounces for future use.

However, the entire bottle was only 8 ounces. I looked again at the bottle. It said Net Wt 12 ounces.

Hoping that this was just a one-time aberration or a labeling mistake, I called the 800 number on the bottle, and the person who took my call readily admitted that – yes, there are only 8 ounces in the 12 ounce bottle. Asking how they can get away with such a blatant misrepresentation – 33% less than stated – he went into some convoluted reasoning that feathers are lighter than liquid or something to that effect. Honestly, I stopped listening because I couldn’t wrap my brain around such an Orwellian explanation.

But to make certain I understood him, I asked, “So, if I had a recipe calling for 12 ounces of chili sauce, how many bottles of your 12 ounce chili sauce would I need?”

His answer: Two

I know that both Heinz and the federal government will have long rambling explanations for this anomaly, but we need to cut to the chase: Either Heinz broke the law and should be held financially accountable, or the law allows Heinz to deceive and the law should be changed.

There really is nothing else to say about this because labels are meant to inform, not confuse or dupe those who purchase products.

Normally, I would just vent with friends and move on. But Heinz’s open admission that they knowingly shortchange unsuspecting consumers unleashed a stubborn tenacity that drove me to keep asking questions just to see where it would lead. It was a long and winding road, which is why companies get away with cheating us; it’s just too exhausting and frustrating to pursue them.

But I tried anyway. After calling the 800 number on the bottle, (800 572-2823) I then called the Pennsylvania Better Business Bureau, (412 456-2700) where Heinz is manufactured, and got nothing more than an offer for me to file a complaint, but they have no power to make changes.

Ditto for the Allegheny County Fraud Hotline (412 350-4300)

The same for Heinz Customer Service (800 255-5750) They commiserated with me, saying that they have received other similar complaints, and that I could make a complaint too. But they had no answer for me when I asked why I would bother doing so when nothing came of the complaints previously made.

So, living in California, I called Senator Barbara Boxer’s San Francisco office (415 403-0100). They suggested I call the FTC (877 382-4357) I actually did make a complaint, although I am not optimistic that Heinz will begin putting 12 ounces of chili sauce into their 12 ounce bottles any time soon.

Her office also suggested I call the FDA (949 608-3530). I spoke to a well-informed, empathetic guy who explained that by filing a complaint with them, I would be literally making a federal case out of this incident. This I did.

He kindly allowed me to vent and at one point I was so frustrated, I suggested maybe my next call should be to John Kerry’s wife. He found that quite amusing.

Then I asked if I could notify a news outlet because I was getting a better understanding of why people do exposés – it’s because nothing is ever done in business or in government unless someone gets caught. I was told that I could call anyone I want. But a few major news organizations I contacted found it interesting but were not interested in reporting it. This was yet another disturbing reality in our inability to give voice to a very real consumer concern.

This infuriates me because it affects everyone who has ever bought less than what they thought they purchased. In these tough economic times, I’m wondering how much money has been bilked from already-stretched-thin paychecks.

If anyone feels they can make their voice heard in Washington, feel free to see what you can do to shine some light on this duplicitous measuring by Heinz. I only want what’s fair; I have no interest in becoming the Erin Brockovich of chili sauce.

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin has been a guest writer and columnist in several Los Angeles area papers for over fifteen years. She has written a bilingual parenting book titled, "If You Have Kids, Then Be a Parent!" and a children's book entitled, "My Magic Bubble."

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  • http://soulpowered.tumblr.com/ Robert B. Livingston

    Great story!!

    My first thought is that this is something Ralph Nader and Citizen.org would be interested in.

    Bait and switch is everywhere–

    Death by a thousand mosquito bites– going after one simply seems futile.

    We need to drain the swamp!

  • Eric Brooks

    Volume vs Weight

    I hate to potentially turn this Heinz hassle hurricane into only a storm in a teacup, but the chili sauce probably -weighs- 12 ounces, with a -volume- of 8 ounces. Weight ounces and volume ounces are not necessarily equivalent, especially considering that the large amount of water in the chili sauce would make it heavier than other substances of similar volume (such as dried chili flakes).

    Try weighing the sauce on an ounce scale and see what result you get.

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  • http://soulpowered.tumblr.com/ Robert B. Livingston

    Andy Rooney has been fighting this sort of thing a long time– so maybe we should say “Move along– nothing to see here?”

    I quite admire the story: why would Heinz public relations commiserate with Jill?

    She’s identified something wrong– let’s see.

    I wanted to buy some Heinz Chili Sauce only last week– but skipped it because even on sale it is too expensive for me. The generic brands weren’t sufficiently to buy either.

  • Ralph

    With international trade, the weight or volume of a product must now include the metric weight or volume as well. A clue on the Heinz label is the “(340g),” which, of course, is a metric weight. If the 12 oz. had been a volume measurement, it would have stated 12 FL oz. With all the required labeling laws, I guess it behooves consumers to carefully read product labels.

  • http://criticalcloud.blogspot.com el Greco

    Maybe try a different false advertising story, Jill? How about an expose on whether various cannabis clubs actually give you the weight they say it is? That would be a real public service…

  • http://soulpowered.tumblr.com/ Robert B. Livingston

    Yeah… aren’t we plain silly quibbling about 2oz of chili sauce when life is so sweet?

    http://www.bostonherald.com/track/inside_track/view/20110121a_merry_kerry_wines_dines_hobnobs/srvc=home&position=7

    We need to focus on the America’s Cup!

  • Tellmeeverything2012

    I had the same problem. The fact is Catsup is measured in fluid ounces 1 Cup is 8 Fluid ounces.
    (Liquid volume measure) 1 Cup of water is 8 Fluid ounces ans weighs 8 ounces net.
    I cup of Chile sauce is 1 and 1/2 times as hwavy as water and 8 fluid ounces have a net weight of 12 ounces
    Net weight is somtimes called dry weight too.
    Confusing but not illegal.
    A cup of corn flakes is 8 fluid ounces of measure but weighs less than an ounce.
     

  • Elegantlight

    what kind of dipshit measures weight with a measuring cup? get a life.

  • Chris

    Jill ~ you make a great case and your efforts are appreciated.  I have been buying this product for several years for sweet and sour meatballs and never bothered to measure ~ just poured it right in making the recipe to taste.  This irks me!  Thanks for sharing your well researched information.  

  • Rick

    The jar specifically reads “Net WT 12 OZ”.  The operative word (or abbreviation) is WT.  Fluids are normally measured in volume.  This is NOT a scam, or duplicitous measuring by Heinz, or an issue for Ralph Nader to tackle.  It is incumbent upon the consumer to be educated in the manner in which foods are measured and labeled.  Not an easy chore given the manner in which marketers attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the consumers, but a chore nonetheless.  Read the labels and make every effort to understand what you are reading.  Good luck.

  • OCS

    Rick: You are 100% correct. This confusion is caused by the U.S. system of weights and measures – not by manufacturers. 8 fluid ounces does NOT equal 8 ounces by weight (except for water). 8 fluid ounces ALWAYS equals 1 cup, whether it is 1 cup of sugar or 1 cup of lead. These are measures of volume, not weight

    Jill: You really need to apologize to Heinz. Your article was factually incorrect and grossly. unwarranted in accusing Heinz of misrepresentation. You are opining without the benefit of research, and that is the definition of shoddy journalism

  • Gary

    Jill Chapin, you are fortunate that Heinz has not sued you for this misrepresentation of their practices.  They have done absolutely nothing wrong here and are not misleading consumers in any way. Actually, you are the one doing the public a disservice here.  You are too dim-witted to understand the extremely simple concept of volume versus weight.  You should be ashamed of this article and need to take it down.  You appear nearly as foolish as the idiot stating that deer crossing signs should be moved to areas with lower traffic.

  • Jen

    Seriously you have too much time on your hands. 

  • Alex DeLarge

    Buy a different product and relax and enjoy your cooking.