by Marion Nestle
Oct 8 2008

Campbell’s v. Progresso, continued

I’m fascinated by the “Soup Wars” (see previous post).  The New York Times has a full-page ad today from Progresso: “Campbell’s has 95 soups made with MSG.  Progresso has 26 delicious soups with no MSG (and more to come).” Then it adds in small print, “Except that which occurs naturally in yeast extract and vegetable proteins.”   I thought people considered high fructose corn syrup to be the new trans fat (get rid of it!), but maybe it’s MSG?

Pity the poor makers of canned soups.  Canning blands out the taste so they add grams of salt to cover the blandness.  But less salt is healthier, so the companies add MSG (monosodium glutamate) instead.

Because MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate, a normal amino acid constituent of body proteins, it ought to be safe but health concerns about it go on and on (Wikipedia has a quick review).  Lots of people tell me they are sensitive to it and that MSG gives them headaches or makes them dizzy.  The research on MSG is so inconsistent that I can’t make head or tail of it.  My guess is that we will be hearing a lot more about MSG, especially with Campbell’s and Progresso facing off about which soups use less.  Stay tuned.

And here’s an account of what’s going on with this.

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  • It’s really a shame to eat either of them. Soup is the easiest thing to make homemade! But I wonder about other brands, like Amy’s or Wolfgang Puck.

  • Sheila

    I keep thinking/hoping technology advances will catch up with the processed food industry and come up with a way to preserve foods for grocery shelves in a way that keeps the good natural flavors and removes the need for large salt additives or MSG. Are there any such advances on the horizon?

  • Eric

    Very interesting post here, Marion. Amidst all the hoopla over trans and saturated fats, the angst over MSG seems to have (publicly) waned in recent years.

    And thanks for throwing in a little of your biology knowledge/background. For those of us in the health policy world whose strength is not in the sciences…it is quite helpful to understanding the issue.

  • Philly

    As an aside, the timing of this ad war is critical – during times of economic unrest and market downturns, people gravitate towards humble and inexpensive comfort foods. as a result, Campbell Soup is among a small group of companies whose stock price (no pun intended) has remained relatively healthy as the rest of the market has nose-dived. I expect Campbell’s wants to gain an even stronger foothold in one of the few safe corners of the market.

    they won’t get my business: I’m one of those people senstive to MSG – it makes my mouth go numb and head feel “spacey”. Plus, Campbell Soup recently shut down our local canning plant (Listowel, ON, Canada), throwing 550 people out of work and jeopardizing many local farms. we’ll regret this cavalier attitude towards our food production when the shipping of cheap food from Mexico becomes too expensive to be viable.

  • stan

    (Before I start I have to be honest, Campbells is my client). You’re all right, the wars on soup are heavy right now. But just to point out, they both have MSG in some of their soups (naturally from the process). And the reason CSC has so many more MSG soups is they have way more soups and actually also have more soups with no MSG (or a natural amount). Thanks for all the good input, I know personally that campbells cares what their shoppers think.

  • TA

    MSG is a complete red herring. Study after study has shown that there is no such thing as sensitivity to MSG. What *is* known to be dangerous is BPA, which both Progresso and Campbells use to line their cans. I wrote to Progresso a year or so about it and got an angry defensive response that attempted to hide behind the skirts of Bush’s EPA. As long as these companies continue to poison their food with BPA, they will get no business from me.