Veggie Grill menu fiasco

27 Mar

Veggie Grill doesn’t get it. Or sadly and more precisely, they do get it but have no shame. They are a disgraceful, pathetic company, and here’s why.

I have had to fight a one-man fight to get them to stop misleading their customers. It has been ugly and they have refused to publicly acknowledge what they’ve done, but in a classic “actions speak louder than words” way they’ve — kicking and screaming — made the changes I demanded, EXCEPT for my demand that they explain to their customers what happened. Their latest stealth move — and they are all stealth moves because there has not been one public statement on the matter in the last two months — was to alter their regular menu yesterday in a way that will shock you.

Menu change

On top is what the menu used to say, the bottom is the new version

Did you spot the difference? Sneaky, right? Does this look like they’re moving in a positive direction to a more open form of communication between a company and its customers? I think not. Because instead of simply removing the misleading statement that “Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from organic and non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas” they’re now saying they’re “made from organic or non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas.” (Emphasis added emphatically.) So what the hell does that mean? It means nothing! Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from Academy Award winning or non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas. That’s just as accurate as what their menu now says. Have you ever seen such disdain toward customers? Such cynicism?

And gardein, the company that makes the Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak for Veggie Grill, isn’t willing to say that these items are made with organic soybeans, wheat and peas. When I asked them earlier this week to confirm the accuracy of Veggie Grill’s February 4th tweet which stated “Gardein says that the soy, wheat and peas used in their product to us is organic & non-GMO” this is how gardein replied:


“Wherever possible”?! Really?! What kind of phrasing is that? That seems like slippery, lawyered wiggle room if ever I heard it! Not only does gardein also use the “or” construction, which Veggie Grill finally adopted yesterday, but they further protect themselves by saying “wherever possible” — a phrase that Veggie Grill has not yet added to their slippery statement, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

So the question is: why does Veggie Grill insist on throwing around the word “organic”? Did Veggie Grill make a simple mistake here? Did they not understand that gardein very carefully chooses its words since not a single one of the 22 items on the gardein products page lists organic soybeans, organic wheat or organic peas in its ingredients? That’s right, I went through the ingredients lists of all 22 gardein items on their website and the only organic ingredients listed were “organic cane sugar,”  “organic ancient grain flour,” “organic beetroot fiber” and “organic rice flour.” That’s it.

But Veggie Grill has been saying on its menus for at least two years that its veggie proteins are “made with soy and wheat that are organic and non-GMO.” Meanwhile, anyone who wanted to could simply take a look at the “Veggie Proteins” page on Veggie Grill’s own website and see a list of ingredients for their Chickin’, Veggie-Steak, and Veggie-Steak burger, which listed no organic soy, wheat or peas, merely organic evaporated cane juice and organic beet root fiber. That is, anyone could take a look at that Veggie Proteins page on their website until yesterday, when it vanished. Now when you click that link, you get this:

wrong place

But don’t worry, I took a screen shot of the entire page for my original post because I knew Veggie Grill wouldn’t want anyone to see that ingredients page once I drew attention to it (though I have to admit it took them way longer that I thought it would to realize how bad it made them look and remove it).

In my experience, when a company makes a mistake, even a series of huge mistakes as Veggie Grill has done here, they cop to it, apologize to their customers, make things right with everyone, and move on. Not Veggie Grill. They have said nothing in two months. Not a word. Well, not a word unless you count favoriting and retweeting attacks on me and sending a private DM via twitter whenever a prominent critic comes along asking for an explanation.  I’m not kidding. Take a look at the response to these two food and public health experts. This is a company bathed in secrecy.

DM tweets

How come those people get an explanation but their loyal everyday customers get NOTHING? And how laughable for Veggie Grill to use the word “confusion” here. I think Veggie Grill is the only one who’s confused. And I’m curious, do you think a word like “confusion” could cover a situation where, let’s say, hypothetically, someone was trying to confuse people?

And for what? Why does Veggie Grill keep insisting on using the word “organic” when describing its chickin’ and steak and burgers? Is Veggie Grill desperate to attach a veneer of health to their enterprise in the same way that Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympics in the hope you will associate the company with fitness and athleticism? Is it all about throwing around the word “organic” in the hope that the customer won’t notice the items that are processed and fried?

Because at this point, it’s not clear why Veggie Grill is doing what it’s doing, since they flat out refuse to say, but one thing that’s clear is that it’s NOT a mistake. Not after changing the menu under pressure, and deciding to keep the word “organic” in there anyway, just in a new even more “confusing” usage. Call it what you want, but at this point in time it is anything but a mistake.

The only mistake Veggie Grill has made is in handling this matter like amateurs, and often like children. And by doing this, I fear they have damaged the prospects of vegan businesses in general. I have taken a lot of heat on this topic from vegans who say this has nothing to do with veganism, and that organic is not our fight so why am I criticizing a vegan business, but aside from the question that has been raised as to if they’ve been misleading people about their organic claims, what else might they have been misleading people about, there is the issue of showing the larger marketplace that a vegan business can conduct itself professionally, and can have what it takes to succeed.

Is this really how you want a vegan business to behave? Should they really get a pass for being vegan? I think just the opposite. And I’m not the only one:

Simon tweets

Come on, Veggie Grill, enough is enough. It’s time to give your customers an explanation. You owe them at least that. At least. Get your act together. Finally. Don’t you want to move on? I know that I do.

13 Responses to “Veggie Grill menu fiasco”

  1. John April 19, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    As you probably know by now, most fake meats made with soy protein isolate are not organic, though they’re probably non-gmo if they’re coming from an American or Canadian company.

    Soy protein isolate is produced by soaking soy beans in hexane, a petroleum byproduct, pollutant and neurotoxin. The use of hexane means products can’t claim organic status as per USDA guidelines.

    Companies like Gardein, Beyond Meat, Lightlife, Yves, etc. make a big deal about non-gmo only because they can’t talk about organic status, lest people look into the hexane issue. And they all source their soy protein isolate from pretty much one company, Solae, which also makes vague statements about hexane.

    The sole exception is Tofurky which takes an admirable stand against hexane-derived soy protein isolate. But their isolate is much more expensive to source and isn’t as protein dense, which causes texture issues.

    The Cornucopia Institute did a great investigation into the use of hexane with soy foods. Look it up.

  2. unethical_vegan April 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    Do you drive?
    If so…then I would be far more concerned about your hexane exposure from gasoline than from the part per trillion present in Solae.

    It’s sad that both John and Inufferable are confused about the definition of veganism. Organic and non-gmo have nothing to do with veganism. In fact, as a vegan I avoid organic as much as is practical (it’s associated with immense amounts of completely avoidable animal death).

    • insufferablevegan April 30, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

      I have already had this discussion with a number of other vegans but now I guess I have to have it again with you. Why do you think it’s okay for a company to mislead its customers and sell them food as “organic” when the food is not organic? Whether you care about organic or not, if somebody else does and is buying/eating something because it is marketed as such, I don’t think it’s perfectly find to mislead them. And when a company behaves this way, it can make people wonder what else the company might be misleading people about. Also, I have received responses from vegans who think organic issues are *closely* tied to veganism and that pesticides are killing bees and other animals. Just curious — is English your first language?

    • John May 3, 2014 at 7:31 pm #

      I agree that veganism doesn’t necessarily have to overlap with the organic and non-GMO movements, though it often does. Can organic and non-GMO food feed the world? I don’t know, but the main issue is about a corporation lying to its customers.

      Like Insufferable Vegan, I don’t enjoy being misled. And people conflate non-GMO with organic, which is almost never true in the case of fake meats.

      Hexane emissions from soy oil plants (which is where soy protein isolate also comes from) is just as bad as other air toxic emissions. I agree that the amount of hexane in fake meats is minimal, but the real issue is the point-source pollution from soy protein isolate production, NOT from the ingestion of any hexane in soy products themselves.

      On a separate note, I have no issues with fake meat per se, though I don’t think they are an effective tool to “convert” meat eaters into meat-reducers, and budding psychological and consumer behavior literature suggests that they might actually repulse meat-eaters (which would not be a win for animals at all).

      Also, given the amount of energy it takes to process a soy bean into an elaborate, high-moisture-extruded fake meat (to say nothing of the energy-intensive distribution network required to get that product into people’s hands), I don’t see fake meat as a resource-saver or a panacea for meat consumption. This was proven by a Swedish study:

  3. airka April 30, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    wow… i did not know about hexane… i feel like i just got slapped in the face. i’m so glad i found this page and thank you to john and insufferable vegan for educating me today!! apparently, i have some research to do.

  4. Mike Sewell June 28, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    Jesus you’re a cunt. They’re a private company and can do whatever the fuck they want.

    • insufferablevegan June 28, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

      Oh, yeah? Well you’re a poopyface! Stupid, too, if you think a “private company” can do whatever it wants. Can a company put glass in food, or discriminate against customers? No, they can’t Mr. Sewell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry I called you stupid, btw. “Uneducated” is probably a better fit. You stupid poopyface. 🙂

    • Jane smith August 30, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

      @Mike Sewell you are a disgusting pig!

  5. Susan M September 1, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    It seems that the main issue is that Veggie Grill is not straight forward and won’t give answers when questioned about their food. In the past I was in their store and asked if the food was Non-GMO. They seem to hire (intentionally or non-intentionally) cheerful but Clueless people who look back at you, “what’s a GMO”? Huh? Either that or the kitchen staff and manager don’t speak English and well, one cannot get an answer there either.
    After many months of not going there at all, I got an e-mail coupon for Labor Day promoting free grilled corn. I called my local Long Beach, California store and asked directly for the manager. Oh, he is out, in broken English, OK, how about the Kitchen manager, Yes, they finally put him on the phone and sorry, but his English was worse. When I said I was a customer and “Is your CORN Non-GMO?” He said, “Ahh, Ahhh…I think so, let me check. I asked, if he knew what I mean. He said, “Yes, I have heard of it” I asked if he was really the manager, he said yes, put me on hold for a very long time, came back and then said he checked with someone else, then said, “Our food is Gluten Free”. As you can imagine, I was amazed and annoyed and said that Non-GMO has nothing to do with that and if you are working at Veggie Grill you should know and should be ready for these questions. He was confused and unsure and as mentioned English was limited. (I have nothing against people from other countries, but now I wonder if Veggie Grill might be exploiting workers, paying low wages to latino workers, another issue entirely) Anyway, in the end, I asked to speak to someone who could discuss this in English and answer the question, he hung up on me!!

  6. pslebow October 16, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    Yes, this really has little to do directly with veganism – its about corporate honesty (oxymoron?) and deceptive business practices. But in terms of the food in question: I wonder, is it really the best path to follow to have your brain telling yourself this is vegan, but your mouth is saying “its meat, its meat, its meat….” Investigate the wonderful world WFPB food – infinite variety of flavors to replace the boring old meat experience that these unhealthy veggie-burgers do such a lousy job of imitating anyway.

  7. May 20, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    this has to be a joke……I feel so much more stupid after reading this website. Go speak with a licensed nutriojist or dietician. Then take down your site you tool.

    • insufferablevegan September 17, 2017 at 9:13 am #

      You called me names and now I’m sad. I wish I could be an internet troll, too.

  8. Vdog November 7, 2016 at 10:44 pm #

    There are people out there that are soy intolerant they need to know.

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