Leanwashing, a Very 21st Century Scam

A lot of people think that large companies must, in some way, be bad. This is very silly. Companies exist entirely outside of the moral compass — they could not give a bollocks how they specifically make money.

If there is money in making you healthy, that’s good. If there’s money in making you unhealthy, that’s good too.

If there’s a market for new products, that’s good. If there’s a market for ‘retro’ products, that’s good.

If there’s a market for healthy products created by an obesogenic environment, that’s good — it lets you sell healthy products.

If there’s a market for ostensively healthy products which are more or less identical to unhealthy ones, that’s good — it lets you sell to two different markets. Keep this one in mind…

There is a specific word for this: leanwashing. It means ‘exaggerated or misleading health claims through marketing and packaging’. Of course, consumer groups are on the lookout for this — and it’s pretty easy to prove. But corporations are smarter. And also, they don’t care. This stuff works.

With that in mind, let’s consider this ad I saw at the shops:

That’s some healthy branding right there. All the nice greens, the colander, the font, the colours.

And you see — no health claims! Just nice, simple leafy stuff.

“If you can’t eat ‘em”… that is, if you have some kind of intolerance to kale — for instance, if you thought it tasted like lawn clippings with quinine in it and was drastically overrated, for instance.

(I hate kale.)

This ad is right outside the supermarket… would this product be prominently displayed in the fridge inside?

It would.

That’s the one! Kale Blazer — Dark Leafy Goodness!

With ‘other natural flavours’!

It’s $24 a gallon.

Wait, what?

This is the United States of America, you can get good VODKA for $24 a gallon. Let’s look inside:

… OK. OK.

Sugars: 18g per serving. Fiber: ZERO grams per serving.

This is not a smoothie, it’s processed fruit juice. 12oz of orange juice will have about 30g of sugar, so we might ballpark that it’s about half orange juice. After the addition of everything else, it’s also filtered, or you’d get something above zero grams of fiber.

So what if you drank the whole thing? FOUR servings in a bottle, 32oz — or almost a liter in real measurement.

72 grams of sugar. Mainly fructose. In solution. With some processed vegetable water. 12.5 calories per ounce.

What else has that much sugar?

Now, there’s an honest label. And a little bit more sugar (14.2 calories per ounce), of course.

Oh, and the Mountain Dew is 4L for $3.

Welcome to the 21st Century — you’re paying vodka prices for what is essentially two-thirds strength vegetable Mountain Dew.

Here’s the best part. Scroll back up to that first label.


Which is a subsidiary of…?


Same as the Mountain Dew.

Welcome to leanwashing.

I write about science. We can probably be friends.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store