The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What if the label says organic but...

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mimifix's picture

What if the label says organic but...

What if the label says organic but the bakery you know and trust couldn’t source
any organic flour that week? Do you have an expectation of being informed before
you purchase a loaf? If you knew, would you wait a few days until they could buy
organic flour? Since the flour that week costs the bakery less, would you expect
to pay less?

As a customer I expect any bread I purchase will have a correct label on the
wrapper. If that wrapper says organic flour then I expect an organic product.
Especially if I’m seeking that specific product and paying an extra few dollars.

As a former bakery business owner, however, I understand the disruption in
business if signs must be posted and customers are upset. And what do we use
instead of all those pre-printed bags claiming organic ingredients?

I ask this question because my students have worked in established organic
bakeries and have seen this happen. We talk about ethics and mission statements,
since these students are looking for guidance in starting their own businesses.
I have offered suggestions based on the size of the business: small bakeries
post signs while larger wholesale bakeries add a disclaimer to their bags with a
phone number or email address for further info.

I’m curious about your opinion to this very touchy question.

Many thanks,

Chuck's picture

I for one will bite, offering my own personal opinion on this rather touchy subject: This reminds me of eating out, specifically asking for "decaf coffee", being served "regular coffee" by the harried waitress but not knowing it at the time, staring at the ceiling at 3:00 am, cursing, and vowing never to go back to that restaurant.

If it says "organic", it should be "organic", always. I understand a bakery sometimes not being able to get the flour they expected  ...but they owe it to me to tell me before I buy. I'd hope they could change the label on every single package  ...but if not then at the very minimum put the bad news on a "sign" at the front of the bin.

(And if it's not really "organic", it would be very deceptive to charge me "organic" prices anyway, and I'd feel badly abused and might even sic the BBB on them.)

It seems pretty easy to have a roll of pleasantly colorful stickers made that say something along the lines of "organic flour next Tuesday, 20% off", slap a sticker on every loaf package, and let customers that want further information ask the clerk.

LindyD's picture

Depending on where you live, such dishonesty may violate the law.  In the case of Michigan where it is a misdemeanor for a first offense, you can be fined $500 to $1,000, plus the costs of the investigation.  The statute also provides for a felony charge with four years in jail, and a $10,000 fine under certain circumstances.

Unfortunately, the consumer has no easy way to discover such deceit.  Unless one casually inspects the bakery's garbage cans and finds empty bags of flour evidencing the fraud.  Now, that sure would make for an interesting YouTube video.

I personally think honesty is always the best policy.  People appreciate that much more than being deceived.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

mimifix's picture

As an industry "insider" I've seen many abuses of the public trust. But this one seems especially outrageous. The certifying agency makes no allowances for substitution. Representing a product that does not meet certification guidelines is subject to a civil penalty up to $11,000 per violation and per sale. So not only is this morally wrong but the penalties can put a bakery out of business. I don't understand why they take such chances.

I really like Chuck's suggestion. "It seems pretty easy to have a roll of pleasantly colorful stickers made that say something along the lines of 'organic flour next Tuesday, 20% off', slap a sticker on every loaf package, and let customers that want further information ask the clerk."

The point is that consumers (us!) have the right to know and make informed decisions. At some point, this is going to become public information and hurt all the businesses that are 100% organic all the time. In the meantime, as often as possible I make my own bread.


MmeZeeZee's picture

Essentially, your question is, "What if telling the truth requires personal sacrifice?  Do I still have to do it?"

My answer is, "Yes."

Don't lie.  It's not that complicated, even if it is hard at times.

highmtnpam's picture

One week out of 8 or 10 weeks...can't believe this is a big deal.  I generally buy organic but I'm still alive and didn't have this many choices a few years ago.  I don't think many customers would walk away if you just posted a sign something like this.  "Supply Chain Problem.  Breads today are not made with organic wheat I'd still buy bread that day.  pam

MmeZeeZee's picture

I would (and do) eat non-organic bread but I wouldn't trust a baker that lied about ingredients.  It's as simple as that.

I'm not sure why it would even be considered as an option.  It's so easy to post a note.

Dillbert's picture

there is a Federal law - applies in every state and territory - defining label terms and requirements for "organic"

if I became aware of any shop selling stuff labeled "organic" that didn't meet the legal requirements I'd turn them in without first or second thought.

"posting a note" does not cut the mustard - the label is right or the label is illegal.

Floydm's picture

This is my understanding too, that in 2002 organic got a legal definition in Federal law in the US.  Anyone using the term but violating the terms of that law risks running into serious legal trouble.  If I knew this baker and wanted to see them continue to thrive I would warn them that by mislabeling their product they are playing with fire.

Floydm's picture


Multiple comments on this thread have been flagged as offensive by community members and removed by me. 

Personal attacks, insults, and threats on people's lives are simply unacceptable on a bread making forum.  Any further comments of that nature will be removed and will also result in accounts being shut down.



highmtnpam's picture

Chuck and Mini. Labels-such an easy solution.  I'm not sure, though, that it needs to be a sale item.  I really don't know how much of the price fof a loaf of bread is flour or labor...and you still need to buy the non-organic flour.  Pam

Chuck's picture

I once again am guilty of mis-writing a post that seems to say something different than intended. My "20% off" was offered in the same spirit as my "Tuesday":  just an example. There are a gazillion different ways to word a sticker, and it will take a much better copywriter than me to come up with really good ones.

And it should have been clearer that even the example was suggested only within a very specific context: If I was paying a big surcharge for organic bread,  I'd be upset if I was charged full freight anyway even when the product didn't use organic flour.

Sorry if I seemed to say something else...

mimifix's picture

The point for me is that consumers have the right to know what they're purchasing and make an informed decision. Stickers, not necessarily SALE stickers, would alert folks about an ingredient change. Maybe most people wouldn't care, but they do have the right to make the decision. Let's say you only baked with unbleached flour but the store wouldn't get their order in for another week. Is it okay for them to tell you that bleached flour is unbleached, and you purchase someting else without knowing?

Floyd is absolutely correct about our protection by Federal law . And there is no allowance or special dispensation for changing from organic to non-organic for any reason. I don't understand why a business would take such a risk.

The wider issue for me is that many business owners rationalize a substitution. I've been in the food industry more than 30 years; it's not only one fellow doing it about organic. I personally have seen it in other production facilities and other food products. But now I'm off topic.


Nikkito's picture

I think it could be possible for the bakery to have a few rolls of stickers made up, in case of flour emergency, that had the corrected ingredients listed, and placed over the ingredients lable that is pre-printed on the bag.  That way, as Floyd pointed out, the ingredients would be correct, and, the customer would be made aware, as the sticker would be noticeable.  Also, I know that organic flour can at times run 25-50% more than the same flour that is not organic.  Depending on the percentage of flour used in the bread, I think it would be fair to discount the bread accordingly. 

That being said, while I would be happy to purchase quality bread from a bakery, if I found out that they were lying to their customers (me), I would be a lot less likely to go back.  I would rather that they tell me, then not, and sell me something that isn't whats on the lable. 

There is that subset out there though that only eats organics.  They would loose that business for the week most likely, and that could cause profit margin issues.  So, I do understand why the deception is done.  But I don't agree with it.