Are Strawberry Pop-Tarts Pretending to be a Health Food?

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Key Takeaways

  • A lawsuit filed against Kellogg's alleged that strawberry Pop-Tarts contain fewer strawberries than expected because of misleading labeling and marketing.
  • The lawsuit claimed that Pop-Tarts took advantage of customers who were willing to pay more for healthy ingredients.
  • Pop-Tarts are just one of the many food products that have been sued recently over their labeling.

Kellogg, the maker of Pop-Tarts, is facing a class-action lawsuit over its allegedly misleading food labeling of strawberry Pop-Tarts.

The suit filed in October said that the "Whole Grain Frosted Strawberry Toaster Pastries" packaging shows strawberries in words and depicts the product's "bright red filling, matching the color of strawberries."

"The strawberry representations are misleading because the Product has less strawberries than consumers expect based on the labeling," the suit alleged.

According to the ingredient list on the box, this particular Pop-Tart contains 2% or less of dried strawberries. It's listed as the 18th ingredient after two other fruit products: dried pears and apples. Paprika extract color was also used to boost the redness of the filling.

Spencer Sheehan, JD, the attorney representing this case, told Wall Street Journal that he hopes the class-action lawsuit would push Kellogg to modify its label.

Are Pop-Tarts Really Pretending to be a Health Food?

The suit pointed out that many "consumers seek strawberries for their nutritive properties" and healthy snacks that can fulfill their desire for taste without the guilt.

Sheehan said that "reasonable consumers aren’t expecting to find an actual fresh strawberry" in Pop-Tarts, but the labeling leads them to believe that it's a higher quality product.

Michelle Pillepich, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian and personal trainer, tells Verywell that the food industry often takes advantage of current trends to get consumers to spend more money.

"In general, food marketing is all about the money," Pillepich says. While Kellogg may not be claiming that Pop-Tarts are the same as fruits, she adds, the company knows that berries are trendy and people are willing to pay more for them.

Over-emphasizing the amount of strawberries in Pop-Tarts is just one of the many examples of manipulative marketing in the food industry.

For instance, federal regulators have yet to create a standard definition for the use of "natural" on food labels, but it's showing up all over grocery store shelves.The word "natural" has a health halo around it when companies are simply using the term to pique consumer interest, Pillepich notes.

She adds that "the pressure around how parents are feeding their kids" may persuade them to buy a product that's labeled "strawberry"—which implies that it's nutritious—over a less appealing product.

Are Pop-Tarts the Only Product Under Fire?

According to NPR, class-action lawsuits against food and beverage companies have increased 1000% since 2008. Hundreds of these cases were filed by Sheehan.

Sheehan has filed other lawsuits against food companies that labeled their products "vanilla" when they don't contain real vanilla. He's on another case against Frito-Lay over the minimal amount of real lime juice in its "Hint of Lime" Tostitos chips.

Others have taken legal action against Post Consumer Brands for naming its products with the word "honey" when they're primarily sweetened with sugar and corn syrup. In 2014, a federal judge approved a settlement to the lawsuit against Truvia for marketing its sugar substitute as a natural sweetener even though it's mainly made from an artificial ingredient.

Many of these lawsuits are settled before going to trial. Food labels today are still largely filled with marketing buzzwords like "clean" and "natural."

What to Look Out For on Food Labels

Most marketing information for food and beverage is on the front of the packaging. Consumers would need to look at the nutrition label and ingredients list on the back to understand what the product contains.

But these labels are not always straightforward. Sometimes it's easier for people to decide what to buy based on the buzzwords and images presented upfront.

Lawmakers in August proposed a bill, called the Food Labeling Modernization Act, to help regulate food label displays. If passed, the law would require warning symbols or clear signaling systems to convey the overall health value of the food products.

The bill also proposed to regulate the use of the word "healthy" on food labels, especially in products that contain added sugars or less than 100% whole grains.

Currently, regulated labels also face some challenges in practice. The trendy term "organic" requires products to be certified before they're allowed to use this word for marketing,but the certification process is expensive and time-consuming. Many organic products from small producers aren't labeled, Pillepich explains.

"Farmers at a farmer's market, for example, might use all organic practices but they just don’t have the money to pay for that label," she says. "They’re organic but they're not getting the marketing from it."

She suggests to focus less on labels when shopping at the grocery store since they don't always tell the whole story.

"Think more holistically about what you are buying and eating," she says. "Rather than looking at what’s on this label, think about what is this food and where does it fit into what I need in the big picture."

She also says not to fixate too much on the nutritional value of Pop-Tarts.

"Is it a fruit? No. Does that mean it’s something that you can never have? No. This is not a piece of fruit so I'm not going to think of it as one," Pillepich says, adding that you can enjoy strawberry Pop-Tarts when you want and "have real whole fruits in other ways.”

What This Means For You

Keep in mind that commercials and food packages are designed to make you want to buy the product. Look at the ingredients list and nutrition label on the side or the back of a product to get the full picture of what you're buying.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Understanding Food Marketing Terms.

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Labeling Organic Products.