MONTPELIER, Vt. – A new Log Cabin syrup touted as “all natural” looks a lot like the pure, 100 percent maple product that’s the pride of Vermont, right down to its packaging in a plastic beige jug.
But Vermont officials, seeking to protect the state’s signature commodity, contend that Log Cabin All Natural Syrup is not what it seems, enticing consumers into dousing their pancakes with ingredients that include caramel color, xanthan gum — a natural thickener — and a paltry 4 percent maple.
They want the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate whether Log Cabin Syrup, a division of Pinnacle Foods LLC, is violating FDA labeling laws.
“While most Vermonters have a discerning eye and palate for real maple syrup, the countless consumers outside of our state who have come to expect quality from natural Vermont products may be fooled by this misleading labeling,” U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said Wednesday in a letter to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg.
Michelle Weese, a spokeswoman for Mountain Lakes, N.J.-based Pinnacle Foods, said the company believes its Log Cabin All Natural syrup “complies with all FDA regulations.”
The FDA said it does not have a definition for “natural.”
“In general, labels must be truthful and not misleading, but would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis,” said FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey, adding that the FDA will respond directly to Welch.
Pure maple syrup from Vermont — the country’s largest maple syrup producer — contains no artificial ingredients, just all natural sap from maple trees boiled down to the proper density.
The state is the largest producer of maple syrup, creating 710,000 gallons in 2008.
Both the word “natural” on the Log Cabin label and the packaging that’s similar to containers of pure Vermont maple syrup are confusing to consumers, while the Log Cabin syrup goes for less than half the price of the real thing, Vermont officials say.
It’s a deliberate attempt to fool consumers, said Doug Bragg, owner of Bragg Farm Sugarhouse and Gift Shop in East Montpelier.
“It’s pretty disturbing because they’re trying to sell a product that’s making the public think it’s something that it isn’t and competing with something pure that we’re making,” he said.
Vermont producers know there are table syrups out there that contain little maple syrup, but they are set apart by their containers, said Catherine Stevens, marketing director for Vermont’s maple syrup industry. Not Log Cabin, she said.
That prompted several producers to complain to the state Agency of Agriculture, which contacted FDA.
Even the International Maple Syrup Institute, based in Canada, is concerned and discussed it at its board meeting Aug. 20 in Quebec.
The board “was very concerned about the packaging, shelf-placement and sale of this product,” in addition to the use of “natural” on the label, Dave Chapeskie, the institute’s executive director, said Thursday.
Vermont’s syrup producers must counter Log Cabin’s marketing by promoting their syrup as “pure,” Bragg said. “That’s our strength.”