The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Tips for Obtaining Ingredient Information from Food Companies

Posted on February 11, 2013 by Nina Casalena, The VRG Blog Editor

by Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director

The VRG received a request from an online reader who was experiencing difficulty getting ingredient information from a large beverage corporation. He asked us to “…give advice about getting answers from corporations like this.” Here are some suggestions:

  • Scour the Web first. Look for an ingredients statement or an ingredients list for the product. Start at the company’s main website. Don’t overlook blogs and forums.
  • Reserve judgment about what you read on the Web until you get confirmation. Even a company website may need updating. Approach contacting companies like it was a confirmation hearing for ingredients. Don’t be confrontational but be serious in your quest for company transparency about its ingredients.
  • Email once. Email twice. On different days of different weeks at different times. But keep the question the same.
  • Call once. Call twice. On different days of different weeks at different times preferably speaking to different people. But keep the question the same.
  • When in doubt, go higher. Ask to speak to someone in the quality assurance department. They know more.
  • Keep it simple. State one question per call/email in as few words as possible. (E.g., Are the natural flavors in the product derived from meat, eggs, or dairy?) If it’s a packaged good question, have a complete product name and if possible a SKU number handy.
  • When in doubt, rephrase the question and ask it again during the first call or as a follow-up email reply to the first response you receive. (E.g., Is there anything from animals including meat or enzymes, or from eggs, or from milk such as casein or whey in the natural flavors in the product?”) On the phone, make sure it’s understood correctly. Listen for inconsistencies or vagueness. Write the responses down when on the phone on a piece of paper (or on a computer) where you have already written the original and rephrased questions before calling. Also note the number called, the person asked, the date and time.
  • Ask a friend to cross-check. See if someone else gets the same answer as you did to the same question.
  • Respond to vague answers with more clarity. Be ready with definitions. Use definitions from our Guide to Food Ingredients that you have previously read and understood, Go to http://www.vrg.org/ingredients/index.php
  • If asked why you want to know, state “I’m a veg*n and don’t consume x, y, and z. I want to know if the product contains x, y, or z or any ingredients derived from x, y, and z.” Be very specific about your personal dietary choices.
  • Don’t make assumptions. “Vegetarian” and “vegan” mean very different things to different people so never just ask “Is the product vegan?” Rather ask “Do any ingredients in the product come from meat, dairy, or eggs (or any other ingredient which you don’t consume)?”
  • If you receive information that contradicts what you saw on a company website or what you received from an email or previous call, ask about the discrepancy in a tactful, neutral manner. Be specific. Provide: URL, name of person asked, date, time, etc. Asked to speak to a supervisor if you find the explanation questionable or ask to be called back once the issue is investigated to receive the correct information.
  • Be persistent and follow through! Be empathetic and supportive to the company employee, but keep on asking until you are satisfied with the response you get.

If you see or hear any contradictions as you conduct your veg*n ingredients research, please let us know at vrg@vrg.org.

The contents of this article, our website, and our other publications, including The Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company employees or company statements. Information does change and mistakes are always possible. Please use your own best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. Further research or confirmation may be warranted.

For updates on food ingredients and for all kinds of vegetarian- and vegan-related information, please subscribe to our free enewsletter at http://www.vrg.org/vrgnews/

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3 to “Tips for Obtaining Ingredient Information from Food Companies”

  1. Kate says:

    When I contacted ConAgra about whether the cheese in one of their products contained rennet or not and they answered that the information was “proprietary and a trade secret.” I hadn’t heard that claim before when researching cheese ingredients — is that a wall the VRG runs into often?

  2. Melanie says:

    Kate, I haven’t run in to that response before. I would politely tell them that is not an acceptable answer, and you won’t be buying the product until you can sure it aligns with your health and ethical positions. Then, I would try to find a contact name for the President or Chair of the Board or someone very high up in the organization, and re-iterate your experience and response.
    I did contact Old El Paso regarding the natural flavor in their refried beans. It took them 2 weeks to get back to me, but they did leave a phone message as I requested. It would be nice to know if anyone else has contacted this company about this product.
    Just the fact that we contact these companies shows that there is a growing market concerned about animal ingredients.
    In addition to the questions the article lists above, I think it is also important to ask about insect or insect products (think about the Starbucks fiasco about using cochineal extract, from an insect, in their strawberry smoothies last year).

  3. Janie says:

    Kate, I have also ran into that. And often they don’t like to share info on things like “spices” or “modified food starch”. I agree with Melanie. When they don’t share I choose not to buy, since I can’t be sure the item is something I want to consume.



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