Las Vegas business calls out rival for incorrect labeling

Who needs a government agency to ferret out food falsehoods when you have competitors?

First it was cookies at the Red Velvet Cafe, seriously underreporting its calorie count claiming they were 27 calories. Ho, ho, ho. More like 100-157 calories, two labs found.

Now it’s protein cake bites over-reporting protein grams.

Manbake Beefcakes owner Seth Lagana conceded the protein was not as much as the label said, and he is having the labels changed. He showed me copies of the new labels, as the packages I bought at Freddie’s Nutrition this week had the old labels. He also is changing the recipe and the size.

The difference in protein was substantial. According to one lab analysis, the 33 grams of protein listed on Manbake Beefcakes for three small chocolate peanut butter cake bites was actually 14 grams of protein, less than half advertised.

How do I know this?

Competitor Gregg Leighton, owner of ProBread in Las Vegas, paid to have the cake bites tested by a lab in October. He only tested the protein, not the other claims, such as calorie count, fat, cholesterol, carbs or sodium.

In the athletic world, it’s the protein count that really counts, Leighton explained. Serious athletes and weightlifters aim to eat between 1 and 1½ grams of protein for every pound they weigh, he said. A 180-pound sedentary person could get away with 78 grams of protein. Hence the popularity of protein drinks, protein bars and yes, cake bites and cookies.

Leighton, 56, with his 35 years in the fitness business, a former Mr. USA and Mr. Universe, is upset that for six months Lagana has been selling the products with incorrect labeling.

Leighton asked Lagana how his cake bites were tested, and Lagana said he was only 27 years old and didn’t have any money, so he spent $50 for a computer calculation rather than having them actually tested by a lab, which is far more expensive.

“I told him he had not tested them properly,” said Leighton, who said he has paid $10,000 to test just for protein cookies he is developing.

Lagana did not deny that conversation when I interviewed him and without hesitation promptly admitted his labels are wrong. The labels claim the identical nutritional facts, despite different ingredients for all five flavors, from chocolate peanut butter to cinnamon bun. “We’re in the process of fixing it,” Lagana said. “The labels we have now are legit.”

When told I had bought his product that day claiming the 33 grams of protein per package, he said the change is expected to be taking place soon and sent me copies of new labels.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman explained there is a process to file complaints. “Most of what we do in the FDA is based on risk; those take preference. That said, if there is an issue with a particular product, it’s a good idea to file a formal complaint with our compliance department,” she said. “We do follow up on consumer complaints.”

Leighton knew that but did not file a complaint. Leighton acknowledged the underreporting of protein grams does not harm anybody. “They’re just not getting the nutrition they are paying for.”

Manbake Beefcakes are sold at health clubs, health food stores and farmers markets. As I plunked down $17 for my four bags, an even dozen, a pleasingly fit customer assured me, “Those are awesome.”

Right now Leighton’s ProBread is sold online in Nevada and has 17 grams of protein a slice. He is working on a line of protein brownies, cookies and muffins. “My point is not to put anyone out of business, but to level the playing field so people are getting what they’re paying for,” he said.

Within an hour of our interview Tuesday, Lagana had a notice on Manbake’s Facebook Page saying, “Like we’ve previously addressed, our nutrition facts ARE indeed changing. We finally got our lab results back and I couldn’t be happier. YES, the protein count is less, but the calories and carbs are still nearly perfect for clean dieters. … All of the labels will be corrected as soon as possible. We want to be as transparent about this as we can.”

It was much the same as he told me just moments earlier.

As far back as Oct. 3 he told Facebook friends that recipes and nutrition facts would be changing.

Lagana said his new labels will show protein counts of between 21 to 25 grams for three cake bites in the various flavors.

That better be accurate. Competitors are likely to check.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275.

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