Friday, July 13, 2012

It's the Sauce

In this blog, I write about running, or more recently, ellipticalling (spell check tells me that the word “elliptical” does not have  a gerund form.  I will ignore it).  This is an entry about food.  As a runner, nutrition is a vital part of training.  Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken (officially called “Trader Ming’s Mandarin Orange Chicken” which may or may not be racist) is a vital part of Lauren’s and my diet.  That is, until this week. 

Here’s the back story.  I discovered this convenient meal in 2008 during my first ever visit to a Trader Joe’s in Charlotte as I cruised the aisles looking for snacks to fill my bachelor pad.  Above it in the freezer case was a sign that said --  and I am paraphrasing here -- “voted most popular frozen food item in the universe.”  Considering the size of the universe and the number of frozen food items available, I thought it was worth a shot – the logistics of conducting such a large poll, notwithstanding.  When I made it for the first time (18-20 minutes in the oven on 400), I was not disappointed.  Not only was it delicious, it was relatively nutritious:  Seven grams of fat, 190 calories per serving. I’d generally eat two to two and a half servings.   

After that fantastic first impression, I bought the orange chicken on every trip to Trader Joe’s, a tradition that has continued on my transitions from bachelor to husband and from North Carolina to New York City.  That brings us to this week.  Lauren was out for the evening, and I was going to make an easy dinner.  I grabbed the bag of frozen chicken from the freezer and as I did, something caught my eye.  “16 grams of fat, 320 calories per serving.”  What?  I looked again.  I was not reading it wrong.  The chicken was all of the sudden worse for me than going to McDonalds.

Following a brief Google search that yielded no answers, I fired off this email to the Trader Joe’s customer service team:

“My wife and I are long time Trader Joe's customers.  It's the only place we shop in New York City. One staple product in our household is the Mandarin Orange Chicken.  We found it to be a relatively healthy and incredibly easy dinner option.  I became accustomed to it and I never looked at the nutrition facts.  However, as I pulled out the chicken for tonight's dinner, I was startled to find the nutrition information had changed dramatically.  While there was once 35 grams of fat in the bag, there is now more than double that amount.  When did this happen and could someone please explain to me why?  Thank you!

This afternoon, I received this response:

Thank you for your feedback and sharing your concerns.  We did recently have to update the nutritional information on our Mandarin Orange Chicken.  Unfortunately, the sauce had not been included in the overall nutritional factors so we had to make these corrections.  Your concerns have been shared with our Product Steering Committee.

The sauce?!?! How did they not include the sauce in the nutrition facts?  Without the sauce, is it not Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken.  It’s just chicken. One thing is for sure, this kind of egregious mistake would never happen at Wegmans.

There will be no more orange chicken in our household.  I imagine a brief but painful chicken withdrawal period, but there are other frozen meals out there, regardless of whether or not they are the best in the universe.  Or maybe I need to stop looking at the nutritional facts and eat on in blissful ignorance.  


  1. We noticed the calorie change last week! I had no idea the sauce was the reason why. No more delicious mandarin chicken in the Crockford household either. Sadness.

  2. I just noticed this tonight too when I cooked it. I was shocked. Thought it was a good meal with 190 calories and 7g of fat, but now 320 and 16 per serving? That's crazy. How the hell can they leave sauce out of the nutritional info since it is included? WHo eats ORANGE CHICKEN without ORANGE SAUCE????

    Very disappointed.

  3. I hate to be "that guy" but there's a very clear asterisk on the initial picture you posted telling you that the calories listed are without sauce. Not only that, it lists the 20 calories per tablespoon that the sauce was adding. If anything, I would rather they keep the old labeling--now if I do want to have the chicken without sauce, or indeed if I'm wondering whether the sauce is included at all, I have to search online.

  4. Yup, it's basically chicken wrapped in a donut. May I recommend the chicken in Poblano sauce instead?

  5. Thanks for sharing this information. I really like your blog post very much. You have really shared a informative and interesting blog post with people..

  6. They're telling us that the sauce has 7g protein per serving? Not a chance.