A number of years ago, I made a press stop at an exhibitor’s booth during a trade show. At one point, somebody asked me a question, to which I replied, “I don’t know.” I remember a nearby person breaking into the conversation to say, “It’s refreshing to hear someone say they don’t know something.”

Positioning oneself as being “all knowledgeable” is particularly tempting for media. From television talking heads to the greenest journalism major, there are business reasons to portray information providers as, well, all knowledgeable.

Although statistics can be difficult to display graphically, they provide insights beyond what pundits can convey. They also can be misused. As the saying goes, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Additionally, their intepretation can be difficult. Such was the situation with antioxidant and dietary fiber information in this issue’s article “R&D Trends: Update on Healthful Ingredients.”

For example, absolutely solid data from Information Resources Inc. (IRI) shows antioxidant dietary supplement sales falling. In contrast, absolutely solid data from Mintel shows the number of new foods, beverages and supplements touting their antioxidant content as increasing. Also, IRI shows sales of dietary fiber supplements decreasing. In agreement, (unpublished) Mintel data also shows claims for added dietary fiber in foods and beverages declining. Yet, a plethora of anacetodal evidence and consumer research shows fiber products doing quite well.

Why the discrepancies? New product introductions don’t equal sales, of course, and supplement data can be tricky, due to significant sales in hard-to-track channels, such as the Internet and multi-level marketing programs, for example. For another thought, antioxidants and fiber are two very food-relevant nutrients; are people shifting to food sources away from supplements? Care should be taken with fiber data, also. The Mintel data specifically refers to labels touting added fiber. Products innate in fiber or that have fiber added only to improve the Nutrition Facts panel are not counted. Still, I don’t really know.

The editors of Prepared Foods love to hear from readers. We know you are busy, and communicating with a publication is a low priority. Still, we’d be very interested in hearing your take on the above apparent inconsistencies. E-mail us at pfeditors@bnpmedia.com. We will contact you if we wish to publish any comments. Oh, and put something in the subject line like “Doesn’t Know.”