UPDATE: 5 March 2020
Here’s a related discussion about the importance of easy to view date codes in this CNBC special report. The video is queued to 7m 38s and provides an explanation as to why it’s important to have easily visible expiration dates.
UPDATE: 5 September 2015
Well, it took over a year, but the expiration date code visibility issue described below has finally been resolved. Over the past year, we’ve continued buying the Mary’s Gone Crackers products, eating them and contemplating when they might respond to our multiple emails. We never received a response, but apparently our message got through because they now have a much easier to read, darker, stronger imprint for their expiration date code. Take a look at the photo below. Hurray! Another victory.
Initially, rather than fixing the problem, Mary’s Gone Crackers put up a statement on their FAQ page about the date code because so many people were asking where it was.
Below you’ll find the article we originally posted in August 2014.
[The article below was originally published on 20 August 2014. Numerous emails and contact form submissions were made to the Mary’s Gone Crackers website, but the company refused to comment publicly on this issue.]
Poor Expiration Date Labeling Practices
Manufacturers are tempted to print expiration dates in small, hard to find, and difficult to read fonts and colors. Sometimes an expiration date is written in a code that the consumer must lookup and decipher. The motivation behind such practices is to increase sales by having products sold after their expiration date instead of being pulled from shelves.
Worst Possible Example
The company Mary’s Gone Crackers* has gone a step further with their product expiration labeling. It simply doesn’t exist — at least not printed on the outside of the package where a grocer or consumer can easily see it. This ensures that the grocer won’t pull the product from the shelves after it expires, and consumers will buy it assuming it’s fresh even after it has expired.
If you look closely, in just the right light (you need some glare to see it) you’ll find the date lightly embossed in the top of the box. It’s barely perceptible as you can see in the photos below.
Only when you get home from the grocery store, and open the package perhaps days later, will you possibly notice that the expiration date is printed in small type on the clear bag. Of course, you’ll only notice that if you’re looking for it and pull the entire cracker bag out of the box and look for something printed on the clear plastic.
Negative Impact Assessment
While there may be short-term sales resulting from these practices, the long term impact is negative:
- Vendor Impact. Consumers will begin to feel cheated by their grocer, or worse, they will conclude the store management isn’t doing their job or is intentionally being negligent by selling off out-of-date foods.
- Manufacturer Impact. Consumers who don’t think to vigilantly check the expiration date on food will taste a product, and conclude that they don’t like the flavor. They will assume that’s how the product always tastes, and won’t think to check to see if it’s expired.
- Consumer Impact. The impact for the consumer is that they will have lost some money, essentially they’ve been cheated and swindled by the system. They will also, unfortunately, come to an incorrect conclusion about some products that, had they been fresh, would have been quite delicious.
- Consumer Action. For the brands you care about, write companies and insist that they print the manufacturing date and expiration date clearly on the outside of packaging in an easily readable format.
- Vendor Action. Ensure that your customers aren’t purchasing outdated products, because when they do, it reflects very poorly on your competence and intentions. For brands you’d like to carry, write companies and insist that they print the manufacturing date and expiration date clearly on the outside of packaging in an easily readable format. Commit to not selling products that don’t include clear labeling.
- Manufacturer Action. When it comes to transparency and marketplace ethics, be a leader rather than a deceiver. Make sure that all your products are clearly labeled.
Update: 22 August 2014
It’s been two days since we first contacted Mary’s Gone Crackers. There’s been no response from the company about this issue. Most companies will at least send out an automated “thanks for contacting us” message or perhaps have an actual customer service representative send a more personal message. We’ll continue to update this post as news unfolds.
Update: 13 October 2014
It’s been 54 days since we first contacted Mary’s Gone Crackers. There’s been no response and no corrective action. We’re contacting them again today via their website with a link to this article. We’ll continue to update this post as news unfolds. One local grocer, who unknowingly had stale products on their shelf, seems to view this product expiration labeling practice as a liability. They no longer carry Mary’s Gone Crackers products.
Update: 2 December 2014
We’re still waiting to hear back from Mary’s Gone Crackers about this issue.
Unfortunately, the company remained obstinate and non responsive; completely ignoring our many efforts to communicate with them, and seemingly unwilling to correct this problem.
Due to the difficulty consumers were having finding the date code on their packaging, the question of “Where is the expiration date?” became so common that Mary’s Gone Crackers put it on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page of their website as shown below (click the image for a larger view). This is like spending the time and money to put up a road sign that says “bump” rather than just fixing the bump.
* While their practice of hiding expiration dates inside of packaging is deplorable, Mary’s Gone Crackers as a company seems to be exceptional and their products are amazing. So, consumers and vendors should not give up on this company. We’re going to put pressure on them to improve their labeling practices. Until then, you may want to open product boxes in the store (prior to driving home) just to make sure the product is fresh. Simply look for the expiration date printed on the clear inner packaging if you’re unable to read it on the outside of the package.