The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

January 31, 2008

Hot on the Trail: The Curious Case of Sunjel and the National Consumer Confidence Commission

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:47 am

In creating the posts that show up on this Blog, I do a fair bit of wandering around, and most of the posts I make come from the results of that wandering.  I usually don’t dig too deep into things when I’m doing this, since there usually isn’t a whole lot to dig into.  When I was at the local Target a couple of days ago, while wandering the aisles I found a number of cans of Sunjel, labelled as being an “Earth Friendly Premium Gelled Alcohol” product, somewhat similar to the more well-known Sterno, but apparently targeted for use in ventless fireplaces rather than for warming of food.  In this case, there isn’t anything particularly notable about the product itself (it’s basically a can of gelled alcohol, with what is claimed to be an organic gelling agent) but some of the details on the can seemed just a little odd.  Normally I would just take a picture of this, use it for some sort of quick post and call it good, but some further digging on this turned up some rather unusual stuff.

Anyway, Here is the can itself (enlarged a bit to make it a little easier to make out some of the details:)

If you still can’t read the text on the top of the can, it reads as follows:

We are approved by The National Consumer Confidence Commission

Verify everyone’s service & product certification on www.TheApprovalCompany.com including ours

And the text on the banner reads:

Voted Favorite Brand By Consumer Poll

Since 1985

We’ll get to the first part later, but for a relatively mundane product found on the shelf at Target with no obvious competition. it seems like they are making an unusual effort to assure the customer the legitimacy of their product.  It seems to me that there shouldn’t be a whole lot to question here.  Either the stuff catches fire when you light it and continues to burn for some reasonable length of time, or it doesn’t.  The information listed on the back of the can points to a website for the company found at http://www.thesunjelcomany.com, which I went to in order to try to get some more information on the product.

As soon as you go the site, you are greeted immediately by what appears to be a generic canned flash intro with a badly looped music sample that has absolutely nothing to do with gel fuel, fireplaces, or anything remotely related to this company’s apparent line of business.  After a few seconds of this, you are directed to the website, which probably won’t win any design awards anytime soon. It does at least show some of the products the company produces though, primarily the Sunjel itself and a number of fireplaces and other accessories with which to use the stuff.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of info on the composition of the product itself, but I was able to find some info on another website belonging to a reseller about the product that the Sunjel website itself doesn’t seem to provide:

Other wood substitutes are made of an Isopropyl base, petroleum based thickeners and use toxic petroleum based reagents. Other companies do not have a 100% non-toxic product. Other gels can have paper labels that need to be removed prior to burning or the label may catch fire. Last but not least, others have lightweight steel lids that can be difficult to remove, and may develop rough edges in the opening process.

Sunjel is formulated from sugar cane. It is made with with food quality thickeners, no petroleum, no reagents, has no paper label to remove, and has a heavy steel, easy to remove pop-top.

The research and development time spent to create this fuel has been extensive. Sunjel is the only environmentally sound, safe, 100% non-toxic product on he(sic) market.

Exactly how a product consisting primarily of alcohol (even if they are using Ethanol) can be considered to be non-toxic is beyond me.  If that was really the case, I suspect that someone somewhere along the line just might find themselves an alternative use for the product inconsistent with its labeling.  Not that I intend to try it, but I’m just saying…

Going through the rest of the site, things may look a bit sloppy in places, but for the most part nothing seems to be all that unusual here, until we go back to that www.TheApprovalCompany.comwebsite on the label of the can, which leads to the site of some outfit known as the National Consumer Confidence Commission.  The design of this site doesn’t exactly do a whole lot to instill customer confidence.  First of all, there is what appears to be a web counter similar to what you might find on a website back in 1996 or so rather prominently featured on the front page of the site, with a count as of this writing of less than 14,000 hits total.  There are also a number of “Approved” businesses listed in their directory, some with web links, some without, although for something with an apparent national reach, the list is surprinsgly short (then again, the hit counters seem to suggest that they aren’t exactly a recognized authority on the subject.)  Further investigation of some of the links shows a restaurant listed in Seattle, then points to a website for said restaurant that indicates that they do not have a location in Seattle.  Another pizza place listed in Seattle goes to a dead link.  None of the listed websites seem to bother touting their “approval,” with the exception of some of the fireplace resellers.  Unsurprisingly, 2 Burn (the name of the company that produces Sunjel) is listed, as are a number of other sellers of Sunjel products.  Going to the About page on the NCCC website points to an address in Milwaukee Wisconsin, which from a search on Live Maps seems to be a small warehouse, which seems to be a rather odd place to put an organization like that.

It isn’t until we go back to the contact page on the Sunjel website that it becomes clear:  The NCCC and the Sunjel company have an identical mailing address.  I suppose that it is possible that the 2 Burn people are trying (albeit rather unsuccessfully) to branch out their business into other areas, but a more likely explanation is that there’s some sock puppetry going on here, and for some unknown reason, this company feels some sort of need to have their product “approved” by a “consumer organization” of their own making.  To be honest, I’m not sure what exactly this is intended to accomplish in the first place.  As I stated at the beginning of the post, it’s a product that doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of competition to deal with (I did find one competing product  in the course of my searching, but it isn’t exactly a crowded field,) and of the ventless fireplace sellers I found, everyone seems to stick with one brand or the other.  Although I have no experience with this type of thing, it also seems to me that their products should be able to stand on their own merit.  Compared with the risk of backlash that might arise from something like this being found out, the potential benefit to something like this seems to be minimal at best.

This is not to say that I am accusing 2 Burn or Sunjel of any wrongdoing here.  Aside from a questionable “approval” of their own design, I do not see anything in their products or on their website that indicates that this company is trying to do anything but manufacture and sell a product.  I tend to think they might be going about this the wrong way, and that some people might consider such things to be deceptive advertising, but I suspect that this is more likely a case of overzealousness than of any malicious intend.  Still, it just strikes me as just a bit odd that someone would need to go to such great lengths to devise something like this just to sell a product that should be able to sell itself.  Has anyone here got some idea of what is going on here? 

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2 Comments »

  1. I agree, it makes no sense. Sunjel actually has about 5-6 competitors, but it really does make a superior product. (I’ve tried them all over the years)

    Comment by Gary — May 3, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

  2. Actually I do prefer the RealFlame gel over Sunjel; it tends to burn longer and I enjoy the realistic crackling sounds it makes.

    Comment by Ventless Fireplace — May 25, 2009 @ 7:42 pm


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