by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

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.

Nov 17 2020

Let’s hear it for good food news: the British government wants to ban junk food marketing

Here’s the announcement in The Guardian: “UK to ban all online junk food advertising to tackle obesity:  ‘World-leading’ proposal delights health campaigners and dismays advertising industry.”

The tougher-than-expected rules came after Boris Johnson changed his view on personal health decisions following his coronavirus infection. Overweight people are at risk of more severe illness from Covid, or death. Research has found that one in three children leaving primary school are overweight, or obese, as are almost two-thirds of adults in England…If implemented, the ban would affect digital marketing, from ads on Facebook, to paid-search results on Google, text message promotions, and social media activity on Twitter and Instagram.

This refers to the UK government’s “New public consultation on total ban of online advertising for unhealthy foods.”   The details of the consultation are here.  The government wants comments on

  • what types of advertising will be restricted
  • who will be liable for compliance
  • enforcement of the restrictions

According to the BBC,

The plans will now be discussed by representatives from the food industry, members of the public and the government for six weeks, before a decision is made over whether the advert ban will happen or not.

Comment: I’ll bet this proposal does indeed ‘”dismays the advertising industry” and the food industry too.  Marketing is an enormous influence on food choice, particularly insidious because we don’t recognize marketing as such.  It’s just seen as part of the landscape and affects us at an unconscious level.  Marketing to children is especially egregious, especially because it is so effective in encouraging them to demand junk food.  Cheers to the UK government for this.  Stick with it!

Nov 12 2020

Eating during times of stress: watch out for marketers!

Life is always full of stresses but on top of the usual sources we now have the pandemic and what went on—and continues—about the election.

Fortunately, food remains one source of comfort we can always rely on.

The trick is making sure that stress eating doesn’t interfere with long-term health.

Here is a sample of recent reports:

  • From Eater: Butter sales are up “thanks to everyone who is channeling their anxiety into baking.”
  • From CNN: it was junk food and booze on election night.
  • From the Wall Street Journal:  Hershey’s sales are up.  “Hershey said it also benefited from using Covid-19 case counts to predict where demand would spike as more people stayed home, and sent more chocolate bars there.”

What are we to make of these reports?

We are all looking for comfort and solace, and foods help.

But watch out for food marketers: they will do all they can to encourage you to buy what they are selling.

Oct 30 2020

Food marketing effort of the weekend: Happy Halloween!

You might think that Halloween is—or was pre-Covid—a fun activity for your kids, but it’s underlying purpose is to sell candy, as much as possible to as many people as possible.  It’s a big part of total annual candy sales (Valentine’s Day is another).

Let’s start with The Counter’s account of how the candy industry convinced everyone to buy record-breaking amounts of candy, while public health authories were discouraging trick-or-treating.

Is it possible to trick-or-treat safely?  Suggestions:

What’s happening with Halloween in New York City?

ConfectionaryNews.com has produced a Special Edition: Fright night: How American candy companies are gearing up for Halloween

No doubt, Halloween is going to feel different this year, but as John Downs, president and CEO of the NCA [National Confectioners Association] says: “it isdefinitely happening!​”

In this special edition newsletter we focus on how the confectionery industry in the USA is preparing for one of its main holiday seasons.  Halloween is estimated to generate over $4bn in revenue for candy companies and while the festivities are going ahead, the emphasis is on staying safe and following guidelines.

To help consumers and its members prepare for this year’s event the NCA has launched its Halloween Central portal with up-to-date advice from top health experts on how to celebrate safely.  With online sales of candy soaring, we look at an innovative solution from Mars Wrigley with the launch of its virtual Treat Town app for those who are unable to join the outdoor fun this year.  We also report on how other big companies, including Hershey and Ferrero, intend to lift spirits this Halloween – and new kid on the block Stuffed Puffs completes our round-up with a spooky twist on a camp-fire classic.

Check-out the articles below to find out more – and have fun but stay safe this Halloween.

Sep 17 2020

Food companies’ exploitation of Covid-19 for marketing purposes: new report

The NCD [Non-Communicable Disease] Alliance has issued a press release for its latest report, Signalling Virtue, Promoting Harm – Unhealthy Commodity Industries and COVID-19

As the press release explains, the

new report details hundreds of examples of unhealthy commodity industries, led by Big Alcohol, Big Food, and Big Soda, leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic for commercial gain. This report raises concerns of corporate capture during the pandemic by the very industries that are fuelling the burden of NCDs worldwide and putting people at greater risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.

The Alliance released the report in conjunction with the  Global Week for Action on NCDs and the theme of accountability.

The report includes hundreds of case studies submitted from more than 90 countries of business responses to Covid-19, in these categories.

The report illustrates dozens of examples, and it’s hard to choose the most egregious from among so many possibilities.  I particularly appreciated this one.

This report is well worth a close look.  I found it highly instructive.

Sep 10 2020

Annals of international food marketing: Lithuanian instant noodles

I often get messages from PR people representing one food product or another.  This one, from Greta Skridailaitė of the Blue Oceans public relations firm, caught my eye.

Hello Marion​,

In order to satisfy the rising need for instant food in the European FMCG retail market KG Group – one of the biggest agriculture and food groups in the Baltic States – is launching a modern instant noodle production facility in Alytus city, Lithuania, having attracted 20M EUR investment.

Global Instant Noodle market is growing despite the Covid-19 turmoil and is predicted to reach USD 32.1 Billion by 2027. Until recently, most of the instant food has been produced and imported from different Asian countries.

Exclusive reliance on Asian suppliers has shown its drawbacks as supply chains were cut or unreliable during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, many companies began exploring local production options, seeking to alter their supply chains and be less dependent on Asia, especially China.

Below, please find a press release with comments from the Chairman of the Board of KG Group, Tautvydas Barštys.

Please advise if you have additional questions for the KG Group representatives – we’d be happy to help facilitate an interview.

Kind regards,

Greta

Really?

  • Rising need for instant food?
  • 20 million Euro investment?
  • $32.1 billion in instant noodles by 2027?
  • Fears of not being able to get them from China?

I live on an entirely different food planet, alas, but I particularly loved this one because my grandparents came to the US from Lithuania in the early 1900s.

Aug 5 2020

Hypocritical food ad of the week: Smithfield complains about its critics

This was in Sunday’s New York Times, on page 17 of the edition I get.

Smithfield is Big Pork.  It complains in this ad of critics who, it says, are “cynics and skeptics” who “don’t understand the notion of responsibility to others” and are “seeking opportunities to advance their activist agenda.”

Smithfield, the ad says, puts its “Smithfield family and country first.  By implementing aggressive measures to protect their health and safety during this pandemic.  By rewarding our team members on the frontline.”

The ad does not mention the number of Covid-19 cases among workers in its plants.

Fortunately, Leah Douglas of the Food and Environment Reporting Network is keeping track.

OK.  Smithfield is not the worst—that honor goes to Tyson.

The ad also doesn’t mention Smithfields lobbying to prevent lawsuits from injured “team” members.

Count me in as cynical, skeptical, and as activist as I can be on behalf of the workers in Smithfield plants who are forced to be there under close and dangerous conditions.

Want to know more?  The Counter explains what the ad is about in 12 tweets.

Aug 3 2020

Dubious health claim of the week: cranberries and UTIs

The FDA has just announced a Qualified Health Claim for Certain Cranberry Products and Urinary Tract Infections.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today in a letter of enforcement discretion that it does not intend to object to the use of certain qualified health claims regarding consuming certain cranberry products and a reduced risk of recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI) in healthy women.

Huh?

The FDA does not exactly approve health claims that are not backed up by scientific evidence.  It just doesn’t object to them.

This one, no surprise, comes in response to a request by Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc, which would love to be able to market its products as helping to prevent UTIs (which lots of people believe).

Here’s what the FDA says about the science.

After reviewing the petition and other evidence related to the proposed health claim, the FDA determined that the scientific evidence supporting the claim did not meet the “significant scientific agreement” standard required for an authorized health claim.

Hence, the Qualified health claim.

If Ocean Spray wants to use the claim, it has to put atatements like these on the label:

  • For cranberry juice beverages: “Consuming one serving (8 oz) each day of a cranberry juice beverage may help reduce the risk of recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI) in healthy women. FDA has concluded that the scientific evidence supporting this claim is limited and inconsistent.”
  • For cranberry dietary supplements: “Consuming 500 mg each day of cranberry dietary supplement may help reduce the risk of recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI) in healthy women. FDA has concluded that there is limited scientific evidence supporting this claim.”

Why does Ocean Spray want this?  Because believers will ignore the FDA disclaimers.  Ocean spray says:

To that end, Ocean Spray will use its medical attributes in the place they matter most–running a campaign on the WebMD site later this year. “We’re going to be all over WebMD,” he said, noting that the connection between cranberry juice and urinary tract health is the fifth most discussed topic on the influential health site.

Qualified health claims are about marketing, not science.

But I know how you feel.  UTIs are awful.  If all it takes is cranberry juice….