I came across an interesting magazine ad recently, from Heinz:

Heinz Vinegar Ad
Heinz Vinegar Ad

The ad claims that some vinegars could possibly be derived from petroleum products, and that theirs are made from all-natural corn or apples (depending upon the type of vinegar).  The ad featured an interesting call to action: searching the internet for “vinegar and petroleum”.

Heinz Ad Zoom

The curious chemist in me was a bit intrigued, and I decided to do a bit of research.   Turns out, the internet has surprisingly little relevant information about this search term.  More than a few results, in fact, were blogs such as mine claiming that they couldn’t find anything, either.  After much exhaustive Googling, I uncovered a few notable tidbits, some of which seemed to relegate Heinz’s ad campaign to a load of fear-mongering nonsense:

  • The Washington Post ran a piece about the ad in its “Is That Right?” column.  Their research led them to the FDA rule that *allows* vinegar to use “petroleum starts” in making vinegar.  Basically, ethyl alcohol is the basic component for vinegar production, and it can be derived from either petroleum sources, or natural sources.  Chemically, it’s the same, once it’s distilled and stripped down to its elemental form.  Ethyl alcohol is ethyl alcohol, no matter where it came from.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an article that boiled the Heinz ad down to pure corporate protectionism: apparently private-label (store brand) products are gaining significant market share amongst savvy consumers, due to the sagging economy.  Private labels are less expensive versions of the name brands.  Heinz (and other food manufacturers) are trying to convince consumers that name brands are the only way to ensure quality, by using cheap and manipulative advertising.  Personally, I try to buy private label products whenever possible – they definitely are a better value and, with a few exceptions, the quality is equal to (if not better than) name brands.
  • The Vinegar Institute was quoted in the Washington Post article, saying that they are not aware of any vinegar manufacturer deriving ethyl alcohol from petroleum (even though the FDA says they can).

The Vinegar Institute?  Really?  There’s a special interest group for everything I suppose.  Some other weird interest groups I discovered: The American Egg Board, American Mushroom Institute, National Chicken Council, American Cheese Society, American Malting Barley Association, The Association for Dressings and Sauces, Fats and Protein Research Foundation, Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, The Juice and Smoothie Association (very flashy website), National Country Ham Association, National turkey Federation,  Pickle Packers International (I’m not kidding), and my favorite – the American Pie Council (“Committed to preserving America’s pie heritage”).

Back to the vinegar ad – you know, if you’re going to urge people to do a web search for “vinegar and petroleum”, the least you could do is make sure the information you want peope to see is ready available.  Or at least CREATE a site to promote your propaganda.  Whoever designed that ad campaign should be fired.   My point is – Heinz is trying to get us to buy their product, even if they have to scare us by doing it, because they want to control the market.  C’mon.  We’re not stupid.