Do you know exactly what ingredients get packed into a meal kit? A complaint filed with the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program alleges which the well-known San Francisco–based meal kit service Sun Basket markets its meals as organic even though they include nonorganic ingredients.
The complaint, filed by an anonymous challenger in mid-2017, alleges which Sun Basket — the third largest online meal kit company — makes inaccurate claims about its products. At the time, Sun Basket’s website prominently displayed the USDA Organic logo using a description which read, “Organic as well as non-GMO ingredients & delicious recipes delivered weekly.”
Yet none of the meat, despite being antibiotic as well as hormone-free, was organic. as well as some of Sun Basket’s produce as well as some other ingredients weren’t organic either.
The challenger said the implication of the company’s branding was “which all of Sun Basket’s meal kits as well as all individual meals/ingredients included within them are organic.” although after analyzing all 5 meal meal kit orders, they found “the total organic ingredients by net weight to be 35% on average.”
“All organic ingredients are clearly labeled upon delivery,” the company said on its website. although if an ingredient will be not labeled organic when you get a Sun Basket meal kit, don’t assume which the item’s organic.
Organic food has become a big draw for consumers: Sales of organic products grew by 8.4% in 2016, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic products can be found everywhere currently, by shampoos to clothing.
Linda Bean, a spokesperson for the ERSP, told BuzzFeed News, “We do take careful note of ‘green’ claims, including claims which products are organic, natural, compostable, biodegradable, etc. because the item will be very difficult for consumers to determine on their own the composition of a product as well as many consumers carefully consider those attributes before purchasing.”
The ERSP — a program managed by the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council as well as administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus — investigates consumers’ as well as competitors’ inquiries about companies’ questionable marketing claims, as well as the item tries to resolve them before the complaints make their way to federal regulators.
Even before the ERSP received the complaint about Sun Basket’s misleading marketing, some of the company’s customers had started off complaining about inconsistencies with Sun Basket’s claims as well as its products.
“They are not 100% organic as their guarantee states,” wrote one reviewer on Yelp last February. “I specifically chose them because of their organic claims. … Poor integrity leaving one to wonder about their product claims as well as truth in advertising.”
“A lot of their produce will be NOT organic as well as I find the item misleading which they have a big USDA Organic stamp on their website,” wrote another Yelp reviewer in 2016. “When I emailed them to address This kind of I was told if you ‘hover over’ the stamp, the item states they source organic when they can. the item just seems a little sketchy to me because how many people are going to know to hover over the item? as well as I’ve noticed a lot of the reviews here rave about the fact everything will be organic, when the item’s not.”
A representative for Sun Basket replied on Yelp, saying, “We strive to provide organic ingredients whenever possible. … Your feedback regarding our wording as well as quality has been passed to the rest of our team so the item can be addressed appropriately.”
Sun Basket CEO Adam Zbar thinks the company will be ahead of its competitors in terms of transparency. “We’re saying exactly what we are, as well as we’re genuinely sticking to a brand standard which’s much higher than any of the some other players,” he told BuzzFeed News. He said the company’s language as well as use of the USDA seal were approved by the organic certifying agency CCOF.
Still, Sun Basket worked with the ERSP last year to address some of the challenger’s complaints. Sun Basket moved the USDA organic logo by the top of its homepage to a spot where the item describes just its produce. the item stopped using phrases like, “try Sun Basket organic meals,” “healthy organic meal delivery,” as well as “leading organic meal kit company.”
the item also changed the language on its marketing by “organic as well as non-GMO” to say “organic as well as sustainable,” in an attempt to “convey which Sun Basket meals include organic ingredients as well as also include ingredients which are sustainable,” according to a decision ERSP issued regarding the complaint.
Zbar said, “We thought the clearest thing we could put on our website will be ‘organic as well as sustainable ingredients.’” While the company considered saying “organic or sustainable,” Zbar said company research found which the word “or” created confusion.
Even after Sun Basket voluntarily updated its marketing, in December ERSP determined which the modifications “were still inadequate in clearly communicating to consumers which Sun Basket meals feature organic ingredients wherever possible,” although not always.
some other modifications have rolled out. After the complaint was filed, Sun Basket began in late 2017 to offer the option to upgrade the meat in a kit to a premium option, such as organic, which costs an extra $1 to $9 (Zbar said This kind of option had long been inside the works as well as was unrelated to ERSP). although even then, there’s no standard for organic seafood, so you can’t upgrade to, say, organic salmon.
“Frankly, a lot of people don’t even know what organic means.”
Sun Basket’s produce will be “99.9% organic” at This kind of point, Zbar told BuzzFeed News. When the company can’t find an organic fruit or vegetable for a kit, the item will either substitute in a different organic ingredient or the item will provide the conventionally grown alternative. This kind of year, the item started off including a note disclosing any ingredient substitution.
“We’ve tried exceedingly hard to be very transparent,” Zbar said. although inside the end, he said, “Sometimes smart people can have disagreements about an area which will be slightly murky.”
currently which organic food has become so widespread, more consumers are starting to question if they’re genuinely getting what they expect: Lawsuits have been filed against Walmart over its organic eggs, Babyganics over its baby care products, as well as a maker of organic agave nectar.
Last year, the US Department of Agriculture’s inspector general’s office reported weaknesses inside the oversight of imported organic produce. These products may be fumigated at the port of entry to manage pests, although will still be sold as organic, for instance.
Then there are inconsistencies between actual organic standards as well as what people think “organic” means. For instance, while many consumers surveyed by Consumer Reports think which organic eggs come by hens who can stretch their wings inside the great outdoors, the USDA only requires which they be given access to enclosed porches, which raises questions about the industry’s animal welfare standards.
“Sun Basket will be riding a wave of consumer desire for health-focused diets,” said Natan Reddy, intelligence analyst at CB Insights. “Sun Basket has differentiated itself by the larger meal kit space, reporting both strong revenue growth as well as customer retention. These defining factors most likely gave Sun Basket a leg up when raising its most recent round of funding.”
Last month, the company announced $57.8 million in brand new funding (bringing its total funding to more than $100 million); the item claims to have “up to three times the retention rate of major competitors.” Zbar declined to disclose how many subscribers Sun Basket has, or what its retention rate will be.
As competitors like Blue Apron — which earned the dubious honor of being the worst tech IPO of 2017 — stumble, keeping Sun Basket’s organic-minded customers happy may be essential for the company’s success.
although what happens when the thing which distinguishes a company turns out to be complex — even “slightly murky”? “As Sun Basket’s health-focused meal kit offerings are the linchpin of its brand, any controversy or uncertainty surrounding nutritional value could pose a threat to further growth,” Reddy said.
ERSP believes Sun Basket should disclose which the item uses organic ingredients “wherever possible” to be clearer, although the company argued which consumers do “not understand the use of the phrase ‘organic as well as sustainable’ to mean which a company offers solely organic ingredients,” the ERSP decision explained.
“To some extent, the item’s splitting hairs,” Zbar said. “We’re not perfect although we’re genuinely striving to provide a high-quality kit which’s transparent. … Frankly, a lot of people don’t even know what organic means.”
Venessa Wong will be a business reporter for BuzzFeed News as well as will be based in brand new York. Wong covers the food industry.
Contact Venessa Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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