by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

Feb 10 2024

Sunday viewing: Super Bowl food ads

Question of the day: What does a 30-second Super Bowl ad cost?

Answer: roughly $7 million (I’m not kidding—for 30 seconds).

Here is Statistica’s “Average cost of a 30-second Super Bowl TV commercial in the United States from 2002 to 2023.”

I have to confess to not being much of a football fan but I am riveted by the junk food content—and astronomical cost—of Super Bowl ads.

I first learned about this year’s collection from FoodNavigator—USA.

Super Bowl LVIII: The products, ads expected to make big plays during game dayWith the Super Bowl two weeks away, consumers are preparing their grocery lists and budgets for the big game day, as CPG brands ready their ads and promotions with the anticipation of receiving a volume boost the week after the game…. Read more

Here’s its prediction:

When it comes to what consumers will bring to Super Bowl parties, 72% said they will buy chips and dips, 44% pizza, 42% homemade appetizers, 35% side, and 33% pre-made appetizers.

Lesser purchased food items include fruit at 32%, cheese/charcuterie at 27%, and homemade desserts at 27%. Only 6% of consumers said they would bring nothing to a party.

Additionally, 47% of consumers said they are planning on purchasing alcoholic beverages, compared to 27% who said the same for non-alcoholic beverages.

However, 34% of shoppers under the age of 35, a demographic increasingly embracing a sober or sober-curious lifestyle, will be buying alcohol, compared to 72% of the consumers aged 55-64.

OK.  The Super Bowl is an occasion for junk food and alcohol.  Would you believe 1.45 billion chicken wings expected to be consumed during the game?

Brand Innovator lists the advertisers.  Here are some of the food and alcohol advertisers:

  • Budweiser, Bud Light, and Michelob ULTRA
  • Hellman’s Mayonnaise
  • Pringles
  • Doritos
  • Reese’s
  • Frito-Lay
  • Nerds
  • M&Ms
  • Coors Light
  • Popeyes
  • Drumstick
  • DraftKinds
  • Starry
  • Mountain Dew Baja Blast
  • Oreo
  • Molson Coors

Here are some summaries:

Enjoy the game, but watch those calories!

Addition: a reader sent this SuperBowl infographic with much more on its being the #2 eating occasion (after Thanksgiving).

Jan 24 2024

How grocery stores encourage snacking

A reader from Phoenix, AZ, Maria Zafonte, sends this from a local Safeway:

From her standpoint—and mine—this is a great way to encourage overeating.

As she explained, if she bought just one bag of chips, each would cost $5.99.

But if she bought four, the unit cost was only $1.97 each.

As she put it:

The problem is what am I going to do with four bags of Doritos?? The healthier choice is financially penalized. It is very frustrating!

Indeed, it is.

One of the hallmarks of ultra-processed food products is their enormous profitability.  You can bet that Safeway is not losing money on 4 bags at $1.97 each.

Even if this is a loss leader (a gimmick to get you into the store), it’s an incentive to overeat.

Caveat emptor.

Jan 18 2024

Misleading product of the week: Veggieblends Cheerios

I think it’s time to start a new “of the week” series of posts—this one on egregiously marketed food products.

Thanks to Jerry Mande, who sent me this email:

Are you writing about Veggie Cheerios? An especially egregious case of misleading marketing. This could be Rob Califf’s Citrus Hill Fresh Choice moment. Particularly troubling is that original Cheerios, a go to finger food for moms of infants and toddlers, is lower sugar and higher in fiber than Veggie Cheerios  –  which only have 2g sugar plus 4g fiber. These new Cheerios have 8g sugars – from corn syrup – and only 2g fiber. Certainly, adding ¼ c. fruit & veggies shouldn’t cause the fiber to go down!

I hadn’t run across this version during my What to Eat revision visits to supermarkets, although I was aware that Cheerios, that old reliable cereal for kids, now came in more than 20 options—line extensions to take up more supermarket shelf space; the more shelf space, the more get sold.

I went right to the link:

Cheerios Veggie Blends Breakfast Cereal, Blueberry Banana Flavored, Family Size, 18 oz

Sure enough.  1/4 cup fruit & veggies.   And you get blueberry, banana, spinach, carrot, and sweet potato.  Impressive!

Here’s what Walmart says about it:

Available exclusively at Walmart [no wonder I hadn’t seen it], a wholesome bowl of Blueberry Banana flavored Cheerios Blends Cereal contains 1/4 cup of fruit and veggies in every serving.*

Uh oh; a footnote.  I went right to it:

* Cheerios Blends Cereal is made with fruit puree and vegetable powder. See complete list of ingredients. It is not intended to replace fruit or vegetables in the diet.


As for the ingredient list:

Whole Grain Oats, Corn Meal, Sugar, Sweet Potato Powder, Corn Starch, Carrot Powder, Canola and/or Sunflower Oil, Banana Puree, Blueberry Puree Concentrate, Corn Syrup, Salt, Spinach Powder, Vegetable and Fruit Juice Color, Tripotassium Phosphate, Natural Flavor. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness. [the rest are added vitamins and minerals].

You want fruits and vegetables?  Eat fruits and vegetables.

You want Cheerios?  I vote for the boring original.

I think I will go to Walmart and buy a box.  I want this one for my cereal box collection.  I don’t think it will be on the market long.

Oct 30 2023

Industry-funded health idea of the week: mushrooms improve cognition

I’m talking about the mushrooms in grocery stores here, not the psychodelic varieties.  A reader who is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, but wishes to remain anonymous, forwarded this message to members of the academy.

From: Mushroom Council <>
Date: August 18, 2023 at 11:04:09 AM EDT
Subject: Re: New, free meal plans for your clients + cognition research update
Reply-To: Mushroom Council <>


…Researchers have been exploring the potential role of mushroom consumption in cognitive function. While more research is needed, the emerging evidence is encouraging. Below are some highlights from the current body of evidence:

        • A cross-sectional study exploring the association between mushroom intake and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) among 663 Singaporean adults aged 60 and older found that individuals who consumed more than two servings of mushrooms per week (1 ½ cups total) had reduced odds of having MCI compared to people who consumed mushrooms less than once per week.1 Fresh golden, oyster, shiitake, and white button mushrooms; dried mushrooms; and canned button mushrooms were included in the analysis of mushroom intake.
        • A prospective cohort study examined the relationship between mushroom consumption and incident dementia in a population of 13,230 elderly Japanese subjects aged 65 and older.2 Participants who consumed mushrooms one to two times per week and more than three times per week had a 5% and 19% lower chance of developing dementia, respectively, compared to people who consumed mushrooms less than one time per week. After further analysis by gender, an inverse relationship between mushroom consumption and incident dementia was only found in women.
        • A double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial investigated the impact of lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) supplementation on cognitive impairment among 30 Japanese men aged 50 to 80 years with MCI.3 Participants were randomized to two groups; one group took tablets containing lion’s mane in dry powder form three times a day for 16 weeks and other group was given a placebo. Participants were observed for four weeks after consuming the supplement for 16 weeks. Compared to the placebo group, the lion’s mane group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale, based on the Revised Hasegawa Dementia Scale (HDS-R), throughout the trial. Four weeks after stopping supplementation, the scores decreased significantly. The placebo group scores also showed significant increases at weeks 8 and 16, compared to the start of the trial. Researchers believe possible causes of an increase might be the placebo effect or familiarity with the cognitive function scale.
        • A cross-sectional study looking at the association between mushroom consumption and cognitive performance among 2,840 older adults aged 60 years and older found that greater mushroom intake was associated with certain cognitive performance tests.4

    Findings from cross-sectional and prospective cohort studies do not demonstrate cause and effect relationships – only associations. In addition, these studies cannot be generalized to the broader population, relied on self-reported dietary information which may not always be accurate, and residual confounding could have impacted the results even though researchers adjusted for a range of confounding factors, such as age, education, lifestyle behaviors, and more.

    Future clinical trials in broader populations will help shed light on the unique role of mushrooms in cognition and overall health.

    Sources:1. Feng L, Cheah IK, Ng MM, et al. The Association between Mushroom Consumption and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Community-Based Cross-Sectional Study in Singapore. J Alzheimers Dis. 2019;68(1):197-203. doi:10.3233/JAD-180959 2. Zhang S, Tomata Y, Sugiyama K, Sugawara Y, Tsuji I. Mushroom consumption and incident dementia in elderly Japanese: The Ohsaki Cohort 2006 study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017;65(7):1462Y1469. 3. Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phyther Res. 2009;23(3):367Y372. 4. Ba DM, Gao X, Al-Shaar L, et al. Mushroom intake and cognitive performance among US older adults: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-2014. Br J Nutr. 2022;128(11):2241-2248. doi:10.1017/S0007114521005195

Comment: This is typical of the kind of thing companies send out to dietitians nearly every day.  The Mushroom Council knows perfectly well that the probability of mushrooms having anything to do with improved cognitive ability has to be vanishingly small.  Its critique in the last paragraph tells you everything you need to know.  The Council sponsored some of the studies cited.  This is about marketing mushrooms.  If you like them, enjoy.  If not, don’t bother.  Note to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Such notices should be labeled clearly as advertisements.  Members should also be told how much companies pay the Academy for such mailings.

Oct 5 2023

Annals of marketing: is “not healthy” the latest trend?

My distant but dearly loved cousin, Michael Kravit, has scored again: “Not Healthy.”

According to the company’s website, these things are “Tasty purffs.  Five flavors.  No health claims…So unhealthy, I bought 15 bags for my family and friends…If you are worried about FFUPs being healthy, you’re on the wrong website.  Go eat some carrots! [Not a bad idea, this last one].

I managed to find the Nutrition Facts for one of them.  They have a lot of salt—320 mg per ounce.  The ingredient list:

Besides salty, how do these things taste?  If you can find some, please let me know.

While we are at it, my daughter sent this photo from the new It’s Sugar store on Market Street in San Francisco.

OK.  Let’s give these companies high marks for truth in advertising.  But do these represent the latest trend?

Caveat emptor.


Jul 12 2023

The latest in food marketing: an easy-to-eat healthy snack

My distant (but dearly loved) cousin, the food package designer Michael Kravit, thought I would enjoy seeing this example of first-rate food marketing—and of a healthy product yet.

First, open the box.

Cut. Scoop. Enjoy!

You aren’t sure how?  The company even supplies a video.

I’d like to see more like this.

Jun 30 2023

Weekend reading: Update on the International Code on infant formula marketing

Earlier this week I wrote about the UNICEF-WHO meeting I went to in Geneva on implementing the 1981 International Code governing marketing of infant formulas.

UNICEF has just issued an update: What I [meaning you] Should Know about the Code

This new publication—a one-stop shopping guide to the issues—summarizes UN resolutions on the Code since 1981 as well as subsequent research on breastfeeding and infant formula marketing, most notably the Lancet Commission reports I wrote about earlier.

Incontrovertible evidence demonstrates how inappropriate marketing of infant formulas undermines breastfeeding and can harm children, especially in places that do not have clean water to dilute formulas.

Every country in the world has committed to the Code—the United States was the last holdout.  We do not seem to pay much attention to the Code’s provisions.

Here is one example.  The Code says:I’m not sure how to interpret the “except” phrase, except that our FDA must think that the health claims on a product like this are entirely acceptable, whereas they would not be allowed in many other countries.  [Reference 23 refers to UN General Assembly Resolution 63.23.]

The Code states that infant formulas should not be labeled in any way that suggests formula might be superior to breast milk.  This and the accompanying statement on the product website, would appear to violate that guideline.

Infant formulas do a good job of substituting for the nutrients in breast milk.  Because the FDA tightly regulates their ingredients, they are all pretty much alike, although they vary in price enormously.

The infant formula industry deserves close scrutiny of its marketing practices and this UNICEF publication is an excellent place to begin.

Jun 15 2023

Innovations in food product development: now we have to deal with AI?

I am indebted to the daily newsletter, Food Navigator Europe, for keeping me up to date on the latest developments in European food marketing.

With all of the fuss at my university about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the way we live, I was riveted by this article.

Artificial intelligence designs soda for Swiss market: ‘We were gripped by AI fever’

Its subtitle: It took just two days for Swiss beverage company Vivi Kola to develop the artificial intelligence-designed beverage using ChatGPT, Midjourney and Unreal Engine.

AI to make yet another sugary drink?  THIS is what AI is being used for?

Gripped by AI fever, the Vivi Kola team found that by leveraging AI tools, it was able to develop a low-sugar, vegan soda product with health benefits within just two days.

First steps involved asking ChatGPT to develop a vegan recipe using ingredients with known health benefits. The response included water, lime juice, haskap berry juice, ginger juice, chicory root powder, and cane sugar…According to ChatGPT, the drink would be full of antioxidants, strengthen the immune system, promote a healthy gut, and stimulate digestion.

The Vivi Kola team procured the ingredients, combined them, and conducted first taste tests.

Oh great.  Ultraprocessed foods created by AI.  Just what we (don’t) need.