Category Archives: consumer advisory

Consumers Beware of ‘Impartial’ AntiVirus Software Reviews

For multiple years in a row, Bitdefender has received editor choice awards from many of the top tech journals, blogs, and product authorities.

Yet, our research indicates it may be the worst antivirus program available. Not long ago, they had an ‘F’ rating with the Better Business Bureau. Their rating is now up to a ‘C’ so they obviously aren’t earning their #1 position that so many reviewers are giving them.

In 2015, we reviewed their product and found so many problems with their customer service, website, and the product itself, it was completely too time consuming to continue using the product.

So, how is Bitdefender getting so many good reviews? Well, it could be a result of the paid commissions that the reviewers get for every sale they send to the company.

PC Magazine unceasingly awards Bitdefender their coveted Editor’s Choice award and Tom’s Guide currently rates Bitdefender the top Antivirus program in the world.

Let’s take the Tom’s Guide article as an example. There are multiple conflicts and problems with the review. First of all, according to the Federal Trade Commission, it’s illegal to include advertising in an article and not declare it as advertising. That article is a glaring text book case of this violation. Secondly, it’s illegal to be a blogger or describe yourself as an independent reviewer if you’re being paid by the company you are giving favor to in the review. This needs to be disclosed.

It’s unlikely that a formal arrangement was made with these reviewers, but the reviewers should do whatever they can to be fully transparent and disclose any financial gain they have from promoting a specific product.

The Tom’s Guide article contains paid affiliate links to the Bitdefender software. When you hover over the huge ad, the link below it discloses that it’s a Google Leads affiliate link as seen in the screen shot below.

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The screen shot above shows the revealed link below the ad when a mouse pointer is hovered over the ad.

Notice also that AntiVirus is spelled AntiVius (with the ‘r’ missing’) in both of the huge ads found in the Tom’s Guide article.

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Antivirus software isn’t the only area consumers need to be leery of. Just about every product, service, and business review is potentially susceptible to being influenced either to make a positive or negative review based on who is paying them.

As always, buyer beware.

Slow Neat Receipts Cloud Software Results in Customer Complaints

Background

In the mid to late 1990s, Visioneer PaperPort was one of the first portable scanning solutions that included OCR (optical character recognition) to magically make your scanned documents searchable. By 2002, there was an increasing demand for an Apple Mac compatible solution, and Visioneer was committed to only supporting Windows. So, many people chose Neat Receipts as a solution when it was first introduced. As the Neat solution improved over the years, and cloud synchronization was added with mobile app support, Neat became the perfect document imaging product. PaperPort later became a product of Nuance.

Neat Captures The Market

Currently, the 4.5 version for Mac (5.7 for Windows) of the Neat software represents the pinnacle of excellence in terms of speed, reliability, and convenience.

With the ability to have separate locally stored libraries, the software could allow the user to maintain a long-term solution for document imaging. The software was fully compatible with the Apple OS X experience allowing Time Machine backup functionality and Spotlight searching capabilities.

After 14 years, given that the company has captured the market with a best-in-class solution, and demonstrated an upward climb with continuous improvement practices, one might ask: “What could go wrong?”

Neat Starting Over

After 14 years of building a loyal customer base, and refining an excellent scanning and document imaging solution, the leadership at Neat decided this might be a good time to scrap everything and start over. This has resulted in problems at every level in their company. (source)

Neat is abandoning the customer base and software that took 14 years to develop. The company has announced:

“As of March 1st, 2016, we will no longer be developing software updates for the retired software versions. Agent-assisted support for the retired software will end after April 30th, 2016. The installation files for retired versions of Neat will no longer be publicly available on our website.” (source)

The old software was so exceptional, they had to remove it from their site because it would compete with the new software. Perhaps some embedded patents or leased technology became cost prohibitive or licenses ran out. It’s unclear.

Customers who have been with Neat for more than a decade will barely recognize the new software or the new company. The leadership has changed. The employees have changed. The focus has changed from hardware (with free software) to a subscription-based software product. The software has changed significantly. It’s not a new version of the old software. It’s completely rewritten on an entirely different platform. It’s basically a new company. Only the name and color scheme of their brand remains.

The software is now up to version 1.4.2p4.2 as available on their website. This could be considered a beta version. Response times are very slow, and at least with the Mac version, the CPU will be heavily taxed when the program runs.

So, essentially, the company took an award winning hardware and software solution, and in a very short time have run it into the ground. This has resulted in thousands of disgruntled customers, and hundreds of 1-star ratings on ConsumerAffairs.com — a site that Neat pays to belong to.

Had the owners and employees of Neat simply taken a year off and done nothing, they would have been immensely better off than they are now. Instead, they are presently going through an internal meltdown and implosion, hemorrhaging employees and customers.

Instead of spending time and money on their problematic software, or unreliable iOS App, they seem to be investing in upgrading the appearance of their website and spending money on fake news coverage through sites like PRWeb where companies can pay people to write positive reviews about their products. To address the problems with their software, they are increasing their customer service call center staffing.

All of this, instead of just fixing the problems with their software that would have garnered them 5-star reviews and plenty of free word-of-mouth advertising. With thousands of upset customers, they are risking a class-action lawsuit.

This episode in Neat’s history is an exceptional textbook example of what companies should desperately avoid doing. Their example will be a useful learning tool for others.

Author’s Note

The point of providing the above history and review, is not necessarily to criticize Neat, but to emphasize this example for other companies as something to avoid. We plan to continue with Neat through the coming difficult months, providing product feedback, and hopefully seeing their resurgence on the other side of what promises to be a challenging time of transition.

Further Reading

Misleading Advertising and Deceptive Pricing on Amazon

Some products are being advertised on Amazon showing inflated retail pricing and savings.

On Amazon, the handbag shown below from Kattee has a sale price of $99 and the List Price is shown as $499 with a total savings of $400. However, if you check the manufacturer’s website, you’ll see the actual retail price is $94.

So, the Amazon price is not a savings of $400. It’s $5 more than you’d pay if buying from the manufacturer.

Amazon Product Listing

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Manufacturer Product Listing

As you can see, the same handbag (shown below at left) is $94.99. on the manufacturer website.

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Chase Bank Fraudulent Notification Phishing Email

This week fraudulent phishing emails were being distributed with the intention of obtaining login credentials for Chase Bank.

In the example is below, the screenshot was taken at the moment when the mouse was hovering over the chase.com link which reveals the true destination for the link.

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Buyer Beware: Deceptive Ads for External USB Hard Drive Power Cord Requirements

Summary

Anyone considering an external USB hard drive should thoroughly consider the power requirements for the device.

USB Powered

For those using a laptop computer, and planning on off-the-grid work running from battery power, an external drive that is USB powered is essential.

Drives Requiring a Separate Power Cable

Slightly lower-priced drives are available that use a separate power cord in addition to the USB data cable. Such drives typically are available in higher storage capacities as well. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to always be near a power outlet to use such drives. Also, having an additional power adapter results in one more thing that can go wrong causing your drive not to work.

Misleading Advertising

The drive shown in the advertisement below shows a single cable going from the drive to the computer. This is done intentionally to mislead customers into thinking that the drive requires only a single USB cable that serves as the data and power cable plugged into the computer.

However, if you read the fine print, you’ll see that the external drive requires an additional power adapter to function (included with the drive). Click here to view the product on Amazon.

You’ll notice that advertising images for such drives never show the side of the drive where the cables connect. This is to ensure that consumers are not fully informed about the product they are thinking about buying.

Advertisers should be required to show all the desirable and less than desirable product cables, adapters, and attachments.

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All Product Images

Below are all the product images offered by the manufacturer. None show the power cable side of the drive. Every other conceivable view of the product is available.

Conservative Campaign Against @KINDSnacks Morphs Into Dubious FDA Warning Letter

So, the FDA recently sent a Warning letter to a snack company. What’s the latest threat they are protecting us from? It’s not Hostess Ho-HosLittle Debbie, or Twinkies. The FDA is apparently concerned with companies claiming that raw nuts are healthy. Their target? KIND bars.

As you’ll no doubt agree, the lengthy and overly nit-picky FDA Warning is a bit too bazaar to believe, so we dug a little deeper to try and connect the dots.

This excerpt from a Huffington Post article sheds some light on the absurdity of the FDA warning:

“The FDA’s crackdown on KIND Bars for saturated fat is ‘well-intentioned but absurd,’ according to Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. ‘It’s a bit ridiculous that saturated fat from nuts should be counted against a product, because nuts are about one of the healthiest choices you could possibly make… This is an example of something with good intentions based on concepts that are hugely obsolete.'” Huffington Post, 14 April 2015 (source)

Here’s what we know… In February 2015, an article on RedState.com presented an appeal asking readers to stop supporting KIND Snack company because the CEO, Daniel Lubetzky, founded an organization called OneVoice which has partnered with an Isralie group called V15, that opposes Benjamin Netanyahu. There’s nothing illegal about supporting or opposing political candidates, but conservatives apparently took issue with Lubetzky not being a Netanyahu supporter.

By mid-March 2015, the anti-KIND campaign seemed to have morphed into a dubious FDA Warning sent to Daniel Lubetsky citing numerous petty violations about the product labeling, and taking issue with the naturally occurring fat content (from nuts).

This kind of harassment seems similar to the IRS audits of conservatives. There’s nothing wrong with consumers making shopping decisions consistent with their politics. However, when government agencies are used to selectively target liberals, conservatives, or any other group, it’s wrong.

Three things are unusual about the FDA Warning:

  1. Concern About Nuts. The KIND products are almost exclusively raw foods with little or no processing or additives. They are primarily comprised of nuts. The FDA concerns about the KIND products could be equally leveled against any products containing nuts and indeed any vendor of raw nuts. The FDA Warning Letter asserts that nuts aren’t healthy. The KIND product formula has remained consistent over the years. Why is the FDA suddenly now concerned about the product line? If nuts represent a serious health risk to consumers, shouldn’t a health advisory be issued?
  2. Concern About Labeling. The primary focus of the FDA Warning seemed to be about the product labeling. While there are many products on the market that contain misleading package images, the KIND products have mostly clear wrappers, through which the consumer sees the  unprocessed raw ingredients. Imagine someone selling a clear plastic bag of walnuts and being told their product packaging is misleading.
  3. Media Leak. The story was leaked to the media on April 14 with most media outlets getting the story wrong — stating that “KIND Bars are unhealthy.” This incorrect reporting, across multiple news sources, suggests that incorrect information was fed to journalists. The FDA Warning was directed primarily toward the product labeling and not the product content. No change to the product content has been requested, and no warning on the label has been requested.

Another point raised in the FDA letter was with regard to the address printed on the food labels. Many companies use a Post Office box as their primary mailing address used for business and legal purposes. Indeed, the FDA no doubt used the KIND PO Box to reach them by mail. Essentially, the FDA says in their letter mailed to KIND, that KIND isn’t reachable by mail.

“Specifically, the statement ‘Kind, LLC, P.O. Box 705 Midtown Station, NY, NY 10018’ which is provided on the label does not include the street address and the street address of your business does not appear in a current city or telephone directory. FDA is unable to determine the physical location of your firm using a city or telephone directory and the address listed on the label.”

Apparently the FDA has never heard of Googling a company. They are still using phone books.

Midway through the threatening letter from the FDA is this statement:

“The above violations are not meant to be an all-inclusive list of violations that may exist in connection with your products or their labeling. It is your responsibility to ensure that your products comply with the Act and its implementing regulations. You should take prompt action to correct the violations. Failure to promptly correct the violations may result in regulatory action without further notice, including seizure and/or injunction.”

So, Daniel Lubetsky has been given 15 days to comply before the FDA might seize the company property and bank accounts without further notice:

“Please respond to this letter within 15 working days from receipt with the actions you plan to take in response to this letter, including an explanation of each step being taken to correct the current violations and prevent similar violations. Include any documentation necessary to show that correction has been achieved. If you cannot complete corrective action within 15 working days, state the reason for the delay and the time within which you will complete the corrections.”

That means KIND would have two weeks to redesign packaging for their entire product line. That’s a huge undertaking. Undoubtedly, nutritionists and a legal team will need to help in the response to the FDA surprise attack. That will take time and cost a lot of money.

By wasting time and money on harassing KIND, the FDA is neglecting to go after real misleading packaging like that found on Good Natured Baked Vegetable Crisps. These chips show colorful carrots, spinach, and red pepper on the bag, yet in fact contain more sugar than any of those vegetable ingredients. It’s the blatantly misleading product packaging that the FDA needs to be doing something about — and not hassling the companies that are wrapping raw nuts in clear packaging.

Below is the ResourcesForLife.com response to the FDA Warning Letter to KIND. ResourcesForLife.com awarded Kind Bars the Most Healthy Nutritious Snack Bar Award for 2015.

* * *

Regarding the FDA KIND Bar Warning

Today an FDA advisory regarding KIND Bars was in the headlines. We believe the FDA warning is misguided and a waste of taxpayer money. It maligns an exceptional brand.

It’s not surprising that the FDA announcement was miscommunicated by the major media with story headlines such as CNBC reporting: “Kind Bars are not ‘healthy’ says the FDA.”

That’s what most people will conclude when hearing about the FDA warning. In a world where consumers don’t read much further beyond the Twitter limit of 140 characters, an FDA Warning and statements about a product not being healthy can take many months and millions of dollars to recover from.

The FDA warning was not about KIND products, but instead about labeling and product claims. It’s not that KIND Bars are not ‘healthy’ but instead the point in question is about the product labeling.

As a result of this confusion, KIND has issued a public statement about the FDA warning.

On the KIND Bar packaging, some relatively obvious common sense statements appear such as “Healthy and tasty, convenient and wholesome.” Our own research concluded that the products are healthy, tasty, convenient, and wholesome, but you can eat a bar and draw your own conclusions. Statements like “good source of fiber,” were also criticized by the FDA, even though the bar we evaluated has 7 grams of fiber, making it what we believe to be a good source of fiber.

The real story here is how uninformed the FDA is with regard to the current nutritional findings that most healthcare practitioners would agree is common knowledge today.

Meanwhile, products that are truly misleading and deserving of an FDA warning letter go unfettered, such as Good Natured Baked Vegetable Crisps that depict vegetables on their packaging, yet have more sugar than any of the vegetables shown on the package.

Please do what you can to help support KIND through this unkind treatment by the FDA.

“Because consumers have so few good choices when it comes to quality food products, it’s essential that consumers know what those choices are. KIND Bars are an excellent nutritious alternative to other less nutritious foods available. It’s important that consumers not be dissuaded from purchasing these products.” ~ Greg Johnson, Director of the Consumer Defense Resource Group

Media Coverage

The media coverage below shows how an FDA warning about product labeling was misconstrued as a product warning. Surprisingly, most of these media outlets got the story wrong by implying that KIND bars are unhealthy.

Only the Huffington Post Got the Story Right

Only one major media outlet got the story right. The Huffington Post reported “Why The FDA Action Against KIND Bars Doesn’t Mean They’re Unhealthy.”

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Coca Cola Removes Claim About Sugar and Diabetes

In the 8 April 2015 video report below, Greg Johnson of the Consumer Defense Resource Group criticized a statement by Coca Cola (UK) that claimed there was no connection between sugar consumption and diabetes. (See from 13 minutes 8 seconds until about 15 minutes.)

By April 11 the statement about sugar and diabetes was removed from Coca Cola’s website.

The article below documents the controversy and provides evidence of the statement that has now been removed.

Holding Companies Accountable

Most of us have had the experience of being in a conversation or discussion with someone and at some point the person responds, “I didn’t say that.”

Consumer advocacy is sometimes like a discussion that criticizes advertising, product labeling, or public statements made by businesses.

Yet, in the Internet age, with less information in print, companies can rewrite their webpages or completely take them down if they are caught making false statements. It’s the same as claiming, “I didn’t say that.” For a consumer advocate, it’s frustrating because you’re constantly dealing with a moving target.

Google Search Results on Diabetes Sugar and Coca-Cola

At the time of this writing (12 April 2015), if you do a Google search for diabetes sugar coca cola, the top (non paid) result out of 623,000 is a statement from Coca-Cola about sugar and diabetes as shown below.

“The reason I knew to search on diabetes sugar and Coca-Cola is because I’d seen the claim on their website years ago, and wanted to review it once more for inclusion in my video.” ~ Greg Johnson

These search results will be changing in the near future, because Coca-Cola has now removed their statement on sugar and diabetes.

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Recording and Preserving Removed Internet Content

Fortunately, we’ve placed a saved version of the page in PDF format on Scribd, as shown below.

In addition to saving PDF versions and screenshots of web pages, it’s possible to use the Internet Archive service. The screen shot below is from the archived page as it’s existed for several years up until this week when it was taken down. This screen shot dates back to October 2013. Other more recent screenshots are also available.

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Coca-Cola’s Statement on Sugar and Diabetes

Below is Coca-Cola’s present statement on the link between the sugar in their products and diabetes.

Yep, as you noticed, they’ve taken it down. No apology. No revision. No public statement. No forwarding link to more information. Nothing. To their credit, at least the document that had been there for several years directed consumers to the American Diabetes Association website.

Presumably the powers that be at Coca-Cola later decided that the American Diabetes Association might not be a resources they’d want their existing and potential customers to know about. Maybe they are worried about sugar being the next tobacco, along with the health risk and legal implications that go along with it.

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Measuring Impact

Sometimes in consumer advocacy work, we are able to engage in a discussion with representatives of a company. This helps document the process, and demonstrate that our work is having an impact. However, there are circumstances where a company won’t comment, won’t respond, and won’t acknowledge that any problem exists or existed. This is to avoid any appearance of fault or legal liability. Because of the huge sugar related lawsuits that may be looming on the horizon, it’s not surprising that Coca-Cola quietly took down their webpage and isn’t going on record about any of what you’ve just read.

Beware of Third-Party Banking Chat Services

Some banks use third-party vended solutions for their customer service. This puts consumers at risk of inadvertently exposing their personal financial information and making it available to someone your bank does not guarantee, fully endorse, review, or control.

Below is an example of a bank that doesn’t provide direct chat support to their customers, but instead outsources it to an inexpensive provider.

If you click on the Contact Us link at the bottom of their site, rather than going to a traditional contact page with an online form or information about locations and phone numbers, a warning message pops up stating:

You will be linking to another website not owned or operated by University of Iowa Community Credit Union. University of Iowa Community Credit Union is not responsible for the availability or content of this website and does not represent either the linked website or you, should you enter into a transaction. We encourage you to review their privacy and security policies which may differ from University of Iowa Community Credit Union.

That’s not very reassuring. If a financial institution feels the need to provide such a disclaimer, they may want to reconsider using what appears to be a less than trusted source.

This statement suggests they don’t know for sure how the third-party provider’s security policies differ from their own, “We encourage you to review their privacy and security policies which may differ from University of Iowa Community Credit Union.”

The resulting chat window appears without providing any information about the chat service provider or what their security policy is.

It’s absurd to think that someone would try to track all this down in a moment when all they want to do is get their customer service need addressed.

An additional usability problem is that users who click on the ‘chat bubble’ icon at the top of the page will be taken directly to the chat session without seeing the disclaimer above.

Whatever company they’ve hired to provide chat support can’t be as good as talking to your local banker.

If you’re working with a financial institution that uses third party customer service chat services, it’s recommended that you directly communicate with your local bankers by phone or stop by the bank for your customer service needs. If you don’t have strong ties to the bank, or are shopping around for a bank, you might want to find one that can offer customer service that’s more personalized and secure.

The screen shots below show more details. Click on an image for a larger gallery view.

 

 

 

 

Buy Local? … Hardly anything is really ‘local’ these days

Buying local is something we can do to help the economy, increase jobs, and reduce our negative impact on the environment. We feel good when we buy local products made in small batches by community artisans.

Unfortunately, hardly anything is really ‘local’ these days.

Often, we’re buying ‘local’ from someone else who purchased items online and had them shipped from China. So, there’s nothing local about that, except for the fact that someone is scraping profits off the top and overcharging us for something we could buy online. That’s just getting ripped off locally.

Food products advertised as ‘local’ are often only locally marketed or locally distributed. Once these businesses get popular enough, their supply chain expands beyond the local community, beyond the state, and often beyond the local region to keep up with demand.

For most food products you can do a little investigative work and look up the plant number for the product. This will tell you where it’s actually being manufactured.

Go to a local craft show, and you might find items being sold that were purchased on Amazon or from online wholesale distributors. Or, perhaps the materials were purchased from China, then after minimal processing, resold as locally made.

It’s important to evaluate the sourcing of materials and labor for what we buy. What tools and machines were used? Where are those tools and machines from? Are they made in USA?

Buying local involves a lot more than just visiting a store that put a buy local sticker in their window.

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Below is an infographic about the benefits of buying local.

CustomMade Buying Local Infographic

Why Buying Local is Worth Every Cent Infographic by CustomMade

Misleading Product Labeling of Natural Foods

A common practice among food producers is to overemphasise the ‘natural’ wholesomeness of products.

This article offers two examples out of many, and is not intended to be singling out a specific product, but instead identifying an overall trend of misleading advertising.

Vegetable Chips

As you can see from the packaging below, the Baked Vegetable Crisps by Good Natured Selects, are stated to have half a serving of vegetables in a single ounce. The ingredients featured predominantly on the packaging are spinach, carrots, and red pepper.

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Elsewhere on the product packaging, you’ll see selected contents listed (spinach, carrots, and red bell peppers).

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If you go to the product page on the company’s official website, you won’t see a list of ingredients.

The ingredients are only listed on the product packaging itself in the nutrition panel as shown below.

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As you can see from the list of ingredients above, the chips have more sugar in them than carrots, red peppers, spinach. In fact, there’s more maltodextrin than spinach. The exclusive emphasis on the vegetable contents is misleading considering that these are added in such a small quantities.

For this product, the sugar content is surprising, yet not extremely high at 3 grams per bag (about 10% of the product is sugar). So, what we learn is that the veggie ingredients are less than 10%, and judging from the list, spinach is likely in the single digits.

An example of honest advertising would be Terra Chips brand veggie chips. They are vegetable chips that don’t just contain vegetables, they actually are vegetables.

12-Grain Bread

Brownberry 12-Grain Bread is another example of a product that overemphasizes certain desirable ingredients, in this case various grains. A consumer wanting to eat significant amounts of diverse grains, might buy the bread for this reason.

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However, a quick look at the ingredients shows the following:

WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, UNBLEACHED ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR [FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, REDUCED IRON, NIACIN, THIAMIN MONONITRATE (VITAMIN B1), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), FOLIC ACID], WATER, SUGAR, SUNFLOWER SEEDS, WHEAT GLUTEN, WHEAT, RYE, CELLULOSE FIBER, OATS, YEAST, SOYBEAN OIL, GROUND CORN, SALT, MOLASSES, BUCKWHEAT, BROWN RICE, CALCIUM PROPIONATE (PRESERVATIVE), MONOGLYCERIDES, TRITICALE, BARLEY, FLAXSEED, MILLET, CALCIUM SULFATE, DATEM, GRAIN VINEGAR, CALCIUM CARBONATE, CITRIC ACID, SOY LECITHIN, NUTS [WALNUTS AND/OR HAZELNUTS (FILBERTS) AND/OR ALMONDS], WHEY, SOY FLOUR, NONFAT MILK

So, in fact, the bread has more iron, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, water, and sugar than the other 10 grains that are advertised on the product.

An example of honest advertising would be the Ezekiel 4:9 multi-grain bread. It’s advertised as a multigrain bread, and these are the ingredients: Organic Sprouted Wheat, Filtered Water, Organic Sprouted Barley, Organic Sprouted Millet, Organic Malted Barley, Organic Sprouted Lentils, Organic Sprouted Soybeans, Organic Sprouted Spelt, Fresh Yeast, Organic Wheat Gluten, Sea Salt.