by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

Jan 24 2022

Marketing to dietitians: the benefits of MSG

Members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics get SmartBriefs sent to their email addresses.

The subject line of this one: “A Surprising Sodium Reduction Tool for Your Clients

 

It is an advertisement; it even says so.  But it does not say who paid for it.

To find that out, you have to click on the subscribe or resource links.

Bingo!  Ajnomoto, the maker of MSG.

All of this is to convince dietitians to push MSG as a salt substitute:

 Extensive research has affirmed not only the ingredient’s safety, but its benefits for sodium reduction. Even the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has recognized MSG as a tool to reduce sodium in the food supply.

Is this a good or bad idea?  MSG still has sodium and its health effects remain under debate.

This kind of sponsorship should be disclosed, front and center, in ads like this, especially because much of the research demonstrating benefits of MSG was funded by guess which company.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics should not permit ads that lack full disclosure.

Members: Complain to the Academy that you want these ads to stop.

Thanks to Jackie Bertoldo for alerting me to this one.

Jan 6 2022

Industry marketing award of the week: California vegetables

I saw this is a tweet from @WesternGrowers, the trade association that represents “local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico…We grow the best medicine in the world.®”

High marks to the Western Growers Association for producing this ad.

  • It has interesting facts.  I did not know all this.
  • It does not have misleading health claims about superfoods.

My one quibble: the confusing denominator.  The percentages can’t be of all of the vegetables consumed in the US; they have to be the percentages of US grown vegetables.

Take garlic, for example.  According to the USDA, we imported $19 million worth of dried garlic in 2020, and $185 million worth of fresh or chilled garlic.  Much of imported garlic comes from China.

According to Rural Migration News, the US imports almost two-thirds of its fresh fruit and one-third of its fresh vegetables.

Even so, I like the ad.

Nov 18 2021

What about 100% fruit juice?

An additional observation in the fruit drink study I recently discussed was a reduction in purchases of 100% juice, probably because it is so hard to tell the difference without careful scrutiny of labels (hint: look for 100%).

100% juice is a better option than fruit drinks because it has a better balance of nutrients and no added sugars. But it is still sugary because so many pieces of fruit go into it [really, fruit is the best option].

The orange juice industry is worried about decreasing sales.

The worldwide market for juices is increasing.

The juice industry would like it to grow even faster.

I was interested to see juice marketing materials emailed to dietitians.

Want to take a guess as to who paid for these messages?

Hot summer temperatures combined with a population eager to get outside and get moving means risk of dehydration is high. In addition to water, consider including 100% juice as a healthy, nutrient dense beverage option. In addition to rehydration and increasing fruit intake, two new studies show 100% juice has many other health benefits.

  1. A recent UK study published in Nutrients found moderate consumption of 100% fruit juice, which aligns with the US Dietary Guidelines, does not increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or poor glycemic control. Furthermore, regular daily consumption of 100% juice, may confer health benefits related to vascular function and reduced blood pressure. Emerging evidence shows there may even be a positive impact on cognitive health. [Funding: This research was funded by an unrestricted grant from the Fruit Juice Science Centre].
    [Funders: a consortium of orange producers, juice manufacturers and packaging companies based in Europe and Brazil under the umbrella of the European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN)].
  1. A second review study, published in Frontiers in Immunology, found that citrus juice, contains key nutrients and bioactive substances that help our immune system to work efficiently and reduce inflammation. [Funders: a consortium of orange producers, juice manufacturers and packaging companies based in Europe and Brazil under the umbrella of the European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN)].

And how do we know this is all about marketing?  Try this Infographic:  Squeeze More Profits From Juices.

Reference: For a summary of research on the “funding effect”—the observations that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests and that recipients of industry funding typically did not intend to be influenced and do not recognize the influence—see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Nov 4 2021

What’s up with digital marketing? Plenty.

Digital marketing, especially when targeted to children, is a rising source of concern and for well-documented reasons.

Two reports provide the data.  The big issue?  Digital marketing promotes unhealthful eating.

I.  From the World Health Organization’s Regional Office in Europe: Digital Food Environments Factsheet

Digital technologies are becoming integrated to varying degrees into everyday life across the 53 countries of the WHO European Region. The increase in digital technologies can increase the convenience of food and prepared meals. A recent unrepresentative survey of 10 European countries found that every fifth meal was consumed outside of the home, with 80% from commercial outlets. The influence of digitalization on dietary behaviour, however, is not well understood, raising questions about its influence on the health and nutrition of adults and children.

II.  From the U.S. Center for Digital Democracy comes Big Food, Big Tech, and the Global Childhood Obesity Pandemic

The full report

Some of the largest food and beverage corporations—including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Pepsi—have, in effect, transformed themselves into Big Data businesses, acquiring specialist firms, establishing large in-house operations, and hiring teams of data scientists and technology experts to direct these systems. With these enhanced capabilities, they can more effectively engage in ad targeting—whether on the leading platforms or through their own mobile apps.

The Executive Summary

A growing body of academic research has documented the increasing presence of unhealthy food promotion in digital media, as well as clear patterns of youth engagement with major brands, and influences on health behaviors.

The Press Release

Tech platforms especially popular with young people—including Facebook’s Instagram, Amazon’s Twitch, ByteDance’s TikTok, and Google’s YouTube – are working with giant food and beverage companies, such as Coca Cola, KFC, Pepsi and McDonald’s, to promote sugar-sweetened soda, energy drinks, candy, fast food, and other unhealthy products across social media, gaming, and streaming video. The report offers fresh new analysis and insight into the most recent industry practices.

Comment: All this calls for regulation, of course.  Any chance of that coming our way?

Sep 8 2021

Marketing strategy of the week: impulse buys

As I discussed in my book, What to Eat, the entire purpose of a grocery store or supermarket is to encourage sales, particularly impulse buys of profitable items.  Food and beverage companies pay stores to place their most profitable products where customers can most easily see them.

This makes checkout counters prime grocery real estate.

Mars Wrigley tells you how this works.

Mars Wrigley showcases new impulse shopping solutions and products

Mars Wrigley said its multifaceted merchandising solutions will shape impulse throughout the shopper journey and provide an effective retail experience, be it at curbside pick-up, online or in-store.

The company is set to work alongside retail partners to implement solutions that reimagine impulse at checkout and identify new spaces in aisle and digitally to optimise category presence and drive conversion [i.e., sales].

Spearheading this growth is its new Accelerating Impulse Moments (AIM) insights platform. This four-pillar platform consists of conversion strategies for retailers across all channels in stores and online, with Snacks Aisle Optimization, Secondary Display Growth, Transaction Zone Reinvention and Digital Solutions Execution.

These strategies will help retailers shape impulse throughout the shopper journey to create an effective and engaging omni-channel experience.

Comment: You are the subject of this “effective and engaging omni-channel experience.”  This may look as if it is about helping grocers market products, but it is really about getting you to buy candy and chewing gum.

Aug 16 2021

Least credible ad of the week: “Beefing Up Sustainability”


My colleague, Lisa Young, forwarded this ad to me from the weekend’s Wall Street Journal.

In case it’s too small for you to read, the ad makes some eyebrow-raising points:

  • “If all U.S. livestock were eliminated and every American followed a vegan diet, greenhouse gas emissions 0would only be reduced by 2%, or 0.36% globally.”
  • “Plus, cattle play an important role in protecting and enhancing our ecosystems by increasing carbon storage, improving soil health, mitigating wildfires, and providing habitat for wildlife.”
  • “We all play a role in a more sustainable future, but eliminating beef is not the answer.”

This, in case it is not instantaneously obvious, is part of the beef industry’s well documented effort to fight concerns about the well documented role of beef production in climate change.

The ad is paid for by the Beef Checkoff, one of the USDA-sponsored marketing and promotion programs funded by what is essentially a tax—the “checkoff”—on producers.  I recently wrote about how the Beef Checkoff funds research in this industry’s interest.

The ad cites research studies supporting its statements, but these are cherry-picked.

Estimates of the percent of greenhouse gases contributed by lifestock production vary, but the most widely accepted range from 14% to 18%.  Beef accounts for at least 10%.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, for example, says:

Total emissions from global livestock: 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions…Cattle (raised for both beef and milk, as well as for inedible outputs like manure and draft power) are the animal species responsible for the most emissions, representing about 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions…feed production and processing (this includes land use change) and enteric fermentation from ruminants are the two main sources of emissions, representing 45 and 39 percent of total emissions, respectively.

The New York Times describes foods that have the largest  impact on climate change.

Meat and dairy, particularly from cows, have an outsize impact, with livestock accounting for around 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases each year. That’s roughly the same amount as the emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes and ships combined in the world today.

In general, beef and lamb have the biggest climate footprint per gram of protein, while plant-based foods tend to have the smallest impact. Pork and chicken are somewhere in the middle.

A study published in Science calculated the average greenhouse gas emissions associated with different foods.  The New York Times summarizes its results:

Beef production creates emissions of methane as well as carbon dioxide from multiple sources: feed production, cow burps, manure production, etc.

Beef production that involves grazing on grasslands could meet sustainability goals, but beef cattle raised in feedlots cannot.

There are plenty of environmental reasons for eating less beef, and these are on top of health reasons.

The Beef Checkoff ad does not tell the whole story, alas.

Addition

Lisa reminds me that the cost of a full-page color ad in the Wall Street Journal runs around $200,000.

Jun 22 2021

Annals of food marketing: Gay Pride kids’ cereal

Kellogg has issued a new cereal in honor of gay pride month.

Kelloggs Together With Pride Cereal Limited Edition Factory Fresh Box

And here’s what’s on the back.

The side panel gives examples of pronoun options (he/him, she/her, they/them, or add your own).  The top panel is a wrist band on which you can write your own pronouns.

I collect cereal boxes and didn’t want to miss this one.  I could not find it in any of the supermarkets I’ve been to.  I bought this one online,.

But now that I have it, I am not sure what to make of it.

On the one hand: It’s a partnership with GLAAD.  It promotes acceptance, and opposes bullying.  Hard to argue with that.  It also recognizes the market power of the pride community—but to what end?

On the other: This is a sugary, ultra-processed cereal, aimed at kids, no less.

  • The sugars: One serving has 12 grams of added sugars, accounting for 24% of the upper daily limit for sugars and 37% of the calories in this cereal.
  • Ultra-processed: This is the term for food products that are industrially produced, bear little resemblance to the foods from which they were derived, are made with ingredients that can’t be duplicated in home kitchens, are formulated to be “addictive” (“You can’t eat just one”), and are highly profitable.  Overwhelmingly, research shows these products to be associated with excessive calorie intake, weight gain, and chronic disease.
  • Marketed to kids: The cartoon characters signal this.  Kids’ cereals are brightly colored (e.g., Froot Loops), sugary, and marketed with cartoon characters.

Non-binary kids, like all kids, should be eating such cereals in small amounts, if at all.

I was curious to see what the press had to say about it—not nearly as much as I expected.

From where I sit, Kellogg is using gay pride to market its cereals.  This is about marketing.  Period.

Nov 18 2020

New report: Big Food vs. Public Health During the Pandemic

Here’s a new must-read report:

This is a thorough and carefully done analysis of the ways in which Big Food companies took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic as a marketing opportunity.  The report gives more than 40 specific examples of corporate:

Nutri-washing: Coupling “solidarity actions” with aggressive marketing of junk food and sugary drink brands, which helped polish corporate images
Positioning ultra-processed food and drinks as “essential products” when they are not healthy foods
Playing both sides: Carrying out philanthropic actions while actively lobbying against healthy food policies
Using charity to push junk food: Donating ultra-processed food and drinks to vulnerable populations

Here’s just one example:

The report is short and beautifully designed.  It comes from the Global Health Advocacy Incubator.  This group produces tools for advocacy, among other useful items.

As Bettina Siegel wrote earlier this year.

America’s poor diet is the leading cause of poor health and is responsible for more than half a million deaths per year. And if our current comfort food bender demonstrates anything, it’s that when people’s sense of security is fundamentally threatened, they’re very often compelled to seek relief and pleasure in unhealthy food.

The report shows how food companies take advantage of our current vulnerabilities.  That’s another reason why the UK’s stop-marketing proposal (I wrote about it yesterday) is so badly needed.