On January 3rd, McDonald’s introduced a new product across America: Fruit & Maple Oatmeal. It’s available all day and includes apples, raisins and cranberries. The flavor of the oatmeal comes from “natural maple flavoring.” There’s just one problem: In my home state of Vermont, lovers of all things maple syrup, “natural maple flavoring” is simply not enough. To legally use the term “maple” in the name, the product must contain actual maple syrup.

The product has already attracted the attention of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture:

“Our maple laws say if it’s a natural maple product it has to have maple syrup,” former Vt. Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee said.

Vermont agriculture officials would like to see McDonald’s add real maple syrup to their product. If not, the state law requires McDonald’s to remove the word maple from the product’s name and advertising.

While the state has indicated they will give McDonald’s 60-90 days to figure out what to do, the issue is being treated seriously by the company. It issued a statement saying, “McDonald’s is currently in discussions with the State of Vermont to ensure that we meet any applicable state standards.”

What do you think readers? Is this appropriate action by Vermont to defend one of its most important industries? Or should individual states not be able to dictate product naming when it’s not an issue for the company in the other 49 states? What about McDonald’s? Does it matter if the product uses real maple syrup or not, as long as it still tastes like maple?

48 Responses

  1. JenInChicago

    I say hold them accountable. They’re a bit too big for their britches.

    You can’t convince me that the McDonald’s legal team didn’t know they were in violation of this…..I don’t live in Vermont and I knew about this law – you’re going to tell me McDonald’s didn’t? Sounds like an “ask for forgiveness rather than permission” decision.

    Reply
  2. Derek

    Can you say “Maple-Flavored” without actually having Maple Syrup in it? If I wanted to sell a product that tasted exactly like maple, in every way, it’s impossible to describe it as anything other than “Maple-Flavored” I would think.

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  3. Kali

    It’s not just Vermont. I am pretty sure Quebec would piss themselves laughing if McD’s tried that up here.

    Reply
  4. Cynthia

    As long as what is really in there is what they say it is, I think it’s a bit much for one small section of industry to dictate how a particular word is used. Get over it.

    Reply
  5. erin

    I don’t think anything should be allowed to be labelled maple unless it’s got maple syrup from Quebec, frankly. :)

    Reply
  6. Spam

    Cynthia, I think the issue is that although the description of the product explains that it’s only maple flavoring, the name of the product–which is all customers will see when they stare at the menu board–does not.

    I would say it should be sufficient for McDonald’s to call it “Fruit & Maple-Flavored Oatmeal,” but according to the state of Vermont, even that isn’t good enough.

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  7. Brian

    Who really thought McDonalds was using real maple syrup? I’m not even sure they’re using real fruit.

    I don’t know how I feel. On one hand it does seem crazy that in order to use the word “maple” you have to use maple syrup in a product. And Vermont will just be getting started if they plan on attacking everyone who uses that word without using maple syrup.

    On the other hand, I’m from the wine country and the situation in Vermont is similar to some situations here. For instance, some labels freely use the word “Napa” on their labels when the grapes weren’t grown in the Napa Valley. Most winemakers in Napa Valley agree (and I do too) that only wine created from grapes in Napa should be allowed to use “Napa” on their label. I believe they may have even passed a law regarding this. It comes down to protecting the product and not devaluing the significance of the name on a label.

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  8. Maple Flavored

    This raises the interesting question of how *anything* gets sold in Vermont if it’s made with “natural maple flavoring”. If you can’t use the adjective “maple”, what do you replace it with? Is it “Fruit & [Surprise!] Oatmeal”.

    Surely this is not a unique case; the issue must have been settled a long time ago.

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  9. Matt

    If it has “natural maple flavoring”, then what could they possibly be using to flavor it with, other than maple?

    I hate myself for saying this,… but I am agreeing with the law here on this one… I would say that if a product says it contains a NATURAL flavoring for somehting, it should have at least some in it.

    For example… if you bought a product with ‘Natural blue erry flavoring’, it implies that it has at least SOME part of a blue berry in it, even if its just a tiny drop of juice.

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  10. Jessica

    I live in Vermont, and I support the maple law. A lot of local people depend upon maple for their livelihood, so it benefits the state to encourage corporations to use real syrup in their products.

    It benefits consumers, too. The IHOP here is the only one in the country that serves actual maple syrup. I’m sure the McDonald’s corporation will be just fine, whether it changes the name to “Fruit Oatmeal” or decides to use real, delicious maple syrup instead of “natural maple flavoring”.

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  11. taberman

    @erin – there’s nothing wrong with VT Maple Syrup! Quebec isn’t the almighty at it I’m sure,
    considering all we have in my house is real grade A, because my mom’s from VT and my dad’s dad used to make the stuff himself.
    not that Quebec is bad at it, they’re just as good as everyone else who can make the real stuff (and make it well!).

    Reply
  12. Erik

    @Cynthia, Derek and Matt: Just saying it tastes like maple doesn’t mean anything whatsoever, technically. Here’s the fine print on this one: you can say that something has ‘natural [blank] flavoring’ without it actually having [blank] in it at all, as long as the flavoring is ‘natural’ and tastes like [blank]. For example, ‘natural maple flavoring’ is most commonly sourced from fenugreek seeds, and ‘natural vanilla flavoring’ comes from oak. This is a VERY common practice in the flavorings industry, as it is often more cost effective to extract and purify flavor compounds from cheap but obscure berries/nuts/trees/etc. than it is to use the ‘real’ thing. Have to side with Vermont.

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  13. Cameron

    Jessica,
    I’m not sure that what “benefits the state” is really the yardstick you want to use when determining the validity of a law or challenge to it. That leaves a mighty wide door for the government to plow through on all sorts of issues. It could potentially benefit the state if we had no private business at all, for example.

    Reply
  14. Ian

    I for one find it nice that the standard is in place. I’ve spent time in many countries, lived in a few of them and currently reside in VT. Most people think the standard from France on Champagne only being from the champagne region of France is stupid, but it’s a standard that is maintained as much as it is a name of a product. In VT Maple syrup is serious business, and getting to know several sugar house owners, I understand why. There’s, quite frankly, too many things in the U.S. the use the term ‘flavored’ instead of just using the real thing and being healthier in the long run than the chemicals and additives that make up the ‘flavor’ they are trying to push.

    Reply
  15. les

    Have an eyedropper of VT maple syrup on the counter and put one drop in each bowl. Can’t Mickey be as silly as VT?

    Reply
  16. Samantha

    Honestly, I grew up in Vermont and I think this is kind of crap. Vermont doesn’t have the market on syrup; what’s next, not allowing syrup made anywhere else to be sold in the state? It’s not like a) anyone believes that McD’s uses real maple syrup and b) they weren’t labelling it Vermont maple syrup.

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  17. notfanofmcd

    MickeyD’s is definitely in the wrong on this one. You can’t call something ‘fruit juice’ if it contains no fruit, you have to sat fruit-flavored drink. And you can’t call something ‘chocolate’ if there’s no actual chocolate. So why do they think they can say ‘maple’ when there’s no maple?

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  18. A.E.Mossberg

    I strongly support Vermont’s position. Maple Syrup should be maple syrup, not flavored corn syrup. If a product says Maple, it should have maple. McDonalds should either fix the product or withdraw it.

    Reply
  19. Jay

    My company cleaned out their vending machines to remove competing products from another company and stirred a hornet’s nest. While our products are great, so are the competition’s, and people like what they like. Forcing a brand on the population is Draconian, and that’s what Vermont is doing. Forcing a produce on the people doesn’t make the product any better, or benefit the product- only the company that makes the product. That’s too anal-retentive, Vermont. Personally, I don’t like “real” maple syrup. I like it blended, a.k.a. cut. “Real” maple syrup is too concentrated/strong and you can’t appreciate the flavor. Vermont is in the wrong, in my opinion. “maple flavoring” or “flavored” is fine as long as it’s real maple, not something artificial.

    Reply
  20. Nathan

    McDonalds is just going to have to abide by the laws of states where they want to do business. It sounds like a niche issue to us, but if it’s a big enough deal for Vermont to think it’s worth enforcing, that’s their call to make.

    I’m not going to cry for McDonalds. They’re charging two dollars for a cardboard cup with pennies worth of oatmeal in it; a few dollops of real maple syrup won’t bang their bottom line too much out of shape.

    Reply
  21. K-Man

    McD’s lawyers should have known about this law, but I don’t think VT should single handedly derail a product launch. This leaves rooms for other states to influence products.

    If VT does not like it, then McD should simply not offer that product in VT. Similar to many disclaimers/disclosures that ‘offer not valid where prohibited’ or ‘void where state law prohibits’ or etc..

    End of the day, McD fucked up but they should not be made to change product name.

    Reply
  22. Jeni

    “Maple flavoring” is usually made of HFCS and fenugreek. I wish it was illegal to call this stuff “maple anything” anywhere. It’s misleading.

    Reply
  23. Your Mom

    Vermont can go f themselves. This is the same garbage as Apple trying to trademark iEverything. You don’t have the right to infringe on somebody’s freedom of speech because the state gets a profit from it. I hope McFatty takes them to federal court and bankrupts the entire state. Oh, and everybody should buy Canadian maple syrup. It tastes better anyway.

    Reply
  24. Spenny

    It’s an abomination to label something maple without any maple in it. I’m so sick of “natural XXX flavoring.” Such bullshit that these companies can’t use REAL FOOD.

    Reply
  25. B_upnorth

    I have a solution. Not that anyone listens. Use my newly minted word such that the product becomes:

    “Fruit & Mapel Oatmeal”

    Tells people phonetically what to expect and legally sidesteps pretentious blowhards.

    Mapel – copyright pending :D

    Reply
  26. DPearce

    So, if the law states that anything having “natural” maple in it, it must have real “maple” syrup in it. Does that mean they could just leave the word “natural” out and be in compliance? What about furniture made from “natural maple”? Does that have to have syrup in it? Maple trees grow “naturally” in nearly all of the lower 48 states, if not all. It seems a bit of a stretch for a state to lay claim to such a ubiquitous plant product. I might be ok with Vermont’s claim if the product tried to claim “natural Vermont maple syrup” flavoring. Does a Japanese Maple have to be imported from Japan? Of course not. That, however, would probably be a legitimate claim if Japan chose to pass that law, even though it would wipe billions of dollars of US nursery trade.

    Reply
  27. Jared

    I really think that laws like this should be stricter, but also allow for exceptions. If it says maple, it has to have maple in it! If not, then it should be “maple flavored**” with an explanation of what is actually in there. And while they’re at it, what does “naturally flavored” actually mean?

    Reply
  28. Meridia

    “Real maple syrup” is too goddamned expensive to use in a mass produced product, thats why they don’t use it.

    Stop charging so damned much for boiled tree sap that tastes worse than the fake stuff, and is runnier than the fake stuff, and maybe people will use it.

    Reply
  29. Steve

    It’s probably made with fenugreek, and not any real maple at all.

    Wikipedia says:
    “In the United States, where maple syrup is popular but expensive, fenugreek is widely used in lower-cost syrup products as a maple syrup flavoring such as Mapleine.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fenugreek

    Reply
  30. Tim

    Interesting to note, however, that NONE of the “big brand name” “maple flavored syrups” have ANY maple in them! Mrs. Butterworths? Log Cabin? Aunt Jemima? NO actual maple syrup in any of them. I don’t know how they label their products in Vermont — and in fact have never been there, but these (and others) are all prominently displayed here in Minnesota and none of them have any actual maple IN them!

    Think of all the hundreds of thousands of products that say what flavor that product is, when that isn’t really IN there. Most of the stuff in the grocery stores is artificially flavored. Imagine if the country where most vanilla beans are grown prohibited imitation vanilla! And on down the line.

    BTW, we make some pretty decent maple syrup here in Minnesota, too.

    Reply
  31. Bled_Tree

    Please someone go against Special K’s Strawberry Bars, because they use ‘Strawberry-flavored Cranberries.”

    From Amazon.com (and checked against a box I have in my pantry):

    Strawberry Flavored Fruit Pieces (Sugar, Cranberries, Citric Acid, Natural Strawberry Flavor With Other Natural Flavors, Elderberry Juice Concentrate For Color, Sunflower Oil)
    _____________
    In other words, Strawberry-flavored Cranberries…

    WHAT?

    Reply
  32. Maple Shake

    Does nobody remember back when McD’s had to change their “Milkshakes” to, simply, “Shakes” because they didn’t actually use any milk in them? Turns out, the sales plummeted so bad, McD’s started selling “Milkshakes” again… only this time, they were made with actual milk!

    I’m with Vermont on this one. …and I prefer actual maple syrup over “natural flavoring” anything.

    Reply
  33. Maryhh

    don’t call it thickened anything, I had one and even after waiting several minutes for the water to be absorbed, it was still very very watery …. ugh!

    Reply
  34. JB

    McDonalds should respect the laws of ANY and EVERY community they move into. Just like every other business in that community. Period.

    Reply
  35. Smokiechick

    Table syrup can be sold in Vermont – it just has to be labeled in such a way that it is obviously not actually maple syrup. Maple syrup is labor intensive and quantity is at the whim of Mother Nature; cost reflects that. It is the largest export from the state and brings in millions of dollars every year. It is in the state’s best interest to protect “Maple”; especially since people expect the real stuff when they come here. (And yes, I can buy maple from NY, NH, and Canada – I just prefer the stuff from Bill down the street)
    So long as McD labels appropriately, there should be no problem; but since there isn’t a McD’s in Montpelier the lawmakers may be a bit hazy on the menu board’s fine print.

    Reply
  36. B from VT

    I am a Vermonter born and raise and I dont think anyone said use VERMONT maple … just REAL maple get it from China if they would like. Every other comp that does business here doesnt have issues with following state laws. we have no Super WALMART or K-mart ether because state law wont let produce type foods in a department store to protect our small business. and i think this runs on those same lines, to protect some integrity.

    Reply
  37. NeonGlo

    Meridia – You are so right on all counts! I thought it, but wasn’t going to say it.
    B_upnorth – Or what about Mapley, as in Fruity and Mapley Oatmeal X-)
    I’ve been wondering forever why syrups don’t even have “artificial maple flavoring” or somesuch on their labels. I didn’t know the laws were so restrictive. McD trying to use “natural” in the wording is understandable. “Natural” could fool most into thinking “Real”, not “Fake”. I don’t care as long as it tastes good, and some artificial flavors do taste better than the natural stuff. Sorry, but it’s true.

    Reply
  38. jess

    Um, ok. I’m a Vermonter and I agree with us having our standards and laws that support, but let’s at least be consistent and show all the facts.
    The “maple flavored” McGriddle has been selling for a couple years here in VT and elsewhere, and no one is mentioning it now, nor did it cause an uproar before. Let’s pick our battles well, people….

    Reply
  39. Rita Morales

    I tried this item from Mickey D’s. It is awesome. I am glad that there is something on the item besides burgers on their menu. Right now I am willing to pay the price of $1.99 plus tax. But am I paying for the container or the lawyers that need to correct the situation that stemmed out of using the word “maple” on the container or advertisement? Nonetheless, I love this Fruit and Maple oatmeal.

    Reply

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