When I was involved in Ethical Co-op (from its startup in 2005, until April 2014), there was a remarkable stream of dubious products presenting themselves for potential sale, trying to market themselves as organic in order to charge higher prices. One of my favourite tasks was investigating and rejecting a product due to not meeting our criteria. Many times it was simply ignorance on the part of the supplier, but quite often the information was intentionally misleading. Sometimes there would be a genuine attempt to correct things, in other cases the guilty would quietly skulk away.
My son and I have great fun looking at product labels. Recently we saw a mango juice that, on the front, boldly proclaimed that “mangos are a good source of vitamin C”. Looking at the ingredients on the back, the juice contained 0% vitamin C. I don’t know the updated legislation well enough to know whether this is illegal, but it’s clearly unethical, and meant to mislead people into thinking the artificial “juice” in the bottle is a good source of vitamin C, is “healthy”.
Reading between the lines of a misleading label is one thing. Then there’s Le Chocolatier.
This month, someone created a Facebook group, Le Chocolatier South Africa scam. According to the documents on the Facebook page (all well-documented, so go take a look), their 70% bar at the time claimed to be:
A true wonder bar! Everyone loves chocolate, and just about every health-conscious person out there would be attracted to a chocolate like this. Except that every one of these claims appears to be false.
First, the sugar. According to the two tests listed on the page, the product contained 30.89% sucrose, and 27.9% sucrose. Sucrose, in case you’re not clear, is plain old sugar.
The fat content turned out to be 40% (and on one of Le Chocolatier’s own labels, 39g/100g (39%). There also appears to have been a change of label, where the fat-free claim was removed, and replaced with “banting and paleo”, two other health buzzwords.
The organic certificate holder, Pronatec AG, stated they don’t sell to any South African companies. That left the possibility of them buying from a wholesaler, but Le Chocolatier never responded to the organic certifier.
Pronatec also rubbished Le Chocolatier’s claim to be raw, saying they they don’t sell raw chocolate.
If all of these claims are true, then it’s very unlikely that Le Chocolatier has just made a few mistakes on their labels, and more likely that they’re just another in the long line of fraudsters attempting to make a quick buck.
The people behind the Facebook group initially (and may still be – I haven’t followed the thousands of posts!) opted to remain anonymous, which aroused suspicion. Why remain anonymous if you are sure of your facts? In their statement, they said that it was the “practical reality of dealing with a human being who has a reputation of trying to legally bully those who expose him” and that “just because something is easily defendable in Court does not mean that you still won’t have to spend R100k+ doing that. Whether it is true or not we have been warned by more than one person that this is the kind of thing that Daniel is liable to do.”
And that’s just what Daniel Waldis has been doing. As a result of the exposure, a host of people have publicly and often at their own expense tested the products. Some were ardent supporters of the chocolate until their suspicions were raised. To my knowledge, all of these people have been threatened.
His marketing leaves a little to be desired if, as a supposedly organic chocolate, he’s threatening legal action against a whole bunch of organic retailers.
It might sound trivial, but sugar for many is a poison. There have been diabetics and cancer patients, whose health is at serious risk if they consume sugar, happily buying his products and putting their health at risk (read one account here). Some had even expressed their doubts to him, only to be personally assured of the product’s integrity.
Daniel Waldis seems to have had an interesting past. He is (or was) also, according to a press release, an “acclaimed dermatologist” who owned the company Swiss Dermal Technology, which performed “skin rejuvenation without plastic surgery”.
An anonymous blog comment, in response to a review, asked:
Can you please investigate this “doctor” further? He has a hell of a past.
He has been in the hunting business, he has been in jail in Switzerland several times.
Didn’t pay his rent in Willowbridge for the clinic etc etc etc. The list is endless!
So, a fun story for an investigative reporter to enjoy getting stuck into.
But it’s been interesting to see the positive coming out of the process. There’s a growing commitment to taking personal responsibility, especially in the shark-infested health food waters. And some collective action. Besides the growing likelihood of legal action against Daniel Waldis, there’s the potential formation of something so far dubbed CERA – the Conscious & Ethical Retailers & Consumer Alliance, co-ordinated by Debbie Logan from Organic Emporium (read the details on her blog).
My gratitude to everyone who helped expose this. It’s wonderful to see people caring and taking action.
In the meantime, there are more than enough great chocolates out there, so I’m happy to pass on Le Chocolatier’s, and on any retailer lacking integrity enough to still be stocking them.