by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

Sep 19 2017

The NY Times’ blockbuster investigation: Big Food in Brazil

The article, which starts on the front page and continues to another two full pages and more, is headlined How Big Business got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.

It’s mostly about how Nestlé (no relation) recruits women in low-income countries to sell the company’s products from small mobile carts.

Here are a few quotes:

  • Nestlé’s direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.
  • Sean Westcott, head of food research and development at Nestlé, conceded obesity has been an unexpected side effect of making inexpensive processed food more widely available.  “We didn’t expect what the impact would be,” he said.
  • Ahmet Bozer, president of Coca-Cola International, described to investors in 2014.  “Half of the world’s population has not had a coke in the last 30 days.  There’s 600 million teenagers who have not had a coke in the last week. So the opportunity for that is huge.”
  • “What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,” said Carlos A. Monteiro, a professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo.  “It’s a war,” he said, “but one food system has disproportionately more power than the other.”
  • [From Felipe Barbosa, a  Nestlé supervisor:] “The essence of our program is to reach the poor,” Mr. Barbosa said. “What makes it work is the personal connection between the vendor and the customer.”
  • But of the 800 products that Nestlé says are available through its vendors, Mrs. da Silva says her customers are mostly interested in only about two dozen of them, virtually all sugar-sweetened items like Kit-Kats; Nestlé Greek Red Berry, a 3.5-ounce cup of yogurt with 17 grams of sugar; and Chandelle Pacoca, a peanut-flavored pudding in a container the same size as the yogurt that has 20 grams of sugar — nearly the entire World Health Organization’s recommended daily limit.

The article is worth the read.  Or see the 3-minute video for a quick summary.  It also comes with a nifty interactive map of world obesity.

Politico Pro Agriculture asked Nestlé for a comment (this may be behind a paywall):

A Nestlé spokesperson defended the company while acknowledging the deeper childhood obesity problems currently plaguing Brazil. “We are disappointed by the New York Times’ biased approach in this article, which we believe does not accurately reflect the breadth and reality of our product portfolio in the context of the public health issues impacting the people of Brazil,” the spokesperson said. “However, we do agree that the real and serious issues raised in the article should be discussed in a balanced and constructive way that focuses on practical solutions.”

Resources

Here’s the article en Español.

And here it is em Português.

Take a look at Center for Science in the Public Interest’s report on Carbonating the World, which covers much of the same territory for Coca-Cola.  In the meantime, subsequent articles in this series are promised for soft drinks and fast food.

 

Jul 29 2016

Brazil’s food revolution is working!

Bridget Huber of The Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) has produced a don’t-miss” article in The Nation: “Welcome to Brazil, where a food revolution Is changing the way people eat: How the country challenged the junk-food industry and became a global leader in the battle against obesity.”

As she explains, Latin America is leading worldwide opposition to food industry marketing, and much is happening in Brazil.

She writes about the advocacy work of Carlos Monteiro, Professor of Nutrition in the School of Public Health, University of Sao Paolo, who says:

The local food system is being replaced by a food system that is controlled by transnational corporations…this dietary deterioration doesn’t just harm bodily health but also the environment, local economies, and Brazil’s rich food traditions. We are seeing a battle for the consumer.

She further explains:

Over the last 30 years, big transnational food companies have aggressively expanded into Latin America. Taking advantage of economic reforms that opened markets, they’ve courted a consumer class that has grown in size due to generally increasing prosperity and to antipoverty efforts like minimum-wage increases and cash transfers for poor families. And as sales of highly processed foods and drinks have plateaued (and even fallen, in the case of soda) in the United States and other rich countries, Latin America has become a key market…In recent years, Brazil has inscribed the right to food in its Constitution and reformed its federal school-lunch program to broaden its reach while bolstering local farms.

And in 2014, the Ministry of Health released new dietary guidelines that made healthy-food advocates across the world swoon [I did a post on them when they were released].  Monteiro helped lead the team that wrote them; the guidelines transcend a traditional nutrition-science frame to consider the social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of what people eat. They also focus on the pleasure that comes from cooking and sharing meals and frankly address the connections between what we eat and the environment.

Huber’s investigative report is long and detailed, and well worth the read.

And it comes with a great graphic comparing the situation in Brazil with that of the U.S. (this is just an excerpt):

Those of us advocating for food systems that are healthier for people and the planet have much to learn from our colleagues in the South.

Apr 18 2016

Annals of beverage marketing: Coke, Pepsi, and Diabetes

A reader, Eddie Pugsley, sends this photo taken at the Walgreens on Nepperhan Avenue, Yonkers, NY.  His comment: “I guess, if you buy the Coke & Pepsi specials you’ll be happy about their diabetic supply savings..?”

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Mar 23 2015

Critical Public Health: special issue on “Big Food”:

With Simon Williams, I have just co-edited a special issue of Critical Public Health: “Big Food”: Critical perspectives on the global growth of the food and beverage industry.”

Here’s what’s in it.

Editorial

Research

Commentaries

  • Big Food’ and ‘gamified’ products: promotion, packaging, and the promise of fun, by Charlene Elliott.
  • Food as pharma: marketing nutraceuticals to India’s rural poor, by Alice Street.

Thanks to Simon Williams for initiating (and doing the heavy lifting on) this project, and to all the terrific contributors.

Enjoy!

 

Mar 2 2015

Brand FNV (Fruits and Vegetables): Worth a Try?

In 2013, Michael Moss wrote a long and highly entertaining piece for the New York Times Magazine about putting the advertising firm Victor & Spoils to work on making up a campaign to sell, of all things—broccoli.

The theory: marketing sells junk food so why not fruits and vegetables?

At last week’s meeting of the Partnership for a Healthier America (the industry support group for Let’s Move!), First Lady Michelle Obama announced that Victor & Spoils had created a for-real campaign to sell fruits and vegetables to moms and teens.

Meet brand FNV.

And don’t miss the video.

Some people who attended the meeting found this on apples in their hotel rooms (thanks to Marie Bragg for sending).

FNV apple marketing

 

The produce industry considers this campaign to have “monumental implications” for its sales.

In other words, it is expected to work.

I’ve written about such campaigns in 2010 and in 2013.

As I said in 2013:

Marketing is not education.

Education is about imparting knowledge and promoting wisdom and critical thinking.

Marketing is about creating demand for a product.

But such campaigns clearly work.  The 5-A-Day for Better Health campaign in the early 1990s increased F&V consumption—for as long as it lasted.

Although this campaign raises the usual questions about marketing vs. education, and what happens when the funding runs out, it’s not aimed at young children.

I’m wishing it the very best of success.

Sep 22 2014

Coke’s latest marketing campaign: your name here

A reader, Alice Campbell, writes:

Dr. Nestle,

Coca-Cola’s new product marketing, “Share a Coke with “insert name here”” has got me thinking. I will admit, initially my thought on the topic was limited to disappointment at the limited chances of finding a can with my name on it. However, I have been pondering, is this marketing strategy an attempt by Coca-Cola to avoid responsibility for the health consequences associated with selling an sugar filled, unhealthy product? Will they attempt to claim that that the suggested serving sizes is half of the container because they are suggesting you share? I have not observed an increase in people sharing their can of Coke. Your thoughts on the issue would be appreciated.

Love the question, particularly because I was given one of these, name made to order.  This can is most definitely not to share, not least because it’s the 7.5-ounce size (nevertheless, 90 calories and a whopping 25 grams of sugar).

IMG-20140917-00196

Don’t you wish you had one with your name on it?

That’s the point.  This has been one of Coke’s most successful public releations campaigns, ever.

But Share a Coke has generated criticism that it violates Coke’s promise not to market to kids.  In Ireland, the cans appear with the 100 most popular names of children ages 7 and 8.

In countries like Pakistan, the cans are labeled with “mama” or “papa,” again raising questions about the target age group.

The campaign may be generating buzz—it’s fun to see your name on a Coke can— but once you have one, that’s it.  Share a Coke is fizzling as a sales generator.

Better get your collectors’ item now!

Sep 17 2014

The food industry’s trillion calorie reduction challenge, evaluated

Remember the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF)—16 big food companies that account for about one-third of calories in the marketplace—and the companies’ pledge in 2010 to reduce the total number of calories they sold by 1.5 trillion by 2015?

As I wrote in my post on the pledge,

What are we to make of all this?  Is this a great step forward or a crass food industry publicity stunt?*  History suggests the latter possibility.  Food companies have gotten great press from announcing changes to their products without doing anything, and every promise helps stave off regulation.

On the other hand, the RWJF [Robert Wood Johnson Foundation] evaluation sounds plenty serious, and top-notch people are involved in it.  If the companies fail to do as promised, this will be evident and evidence for the need for regulation.

So now we have the RWJF-funded evaluation.

The study examining HWCF’s pledge shows that the largest calorie cuts came from sweets and snacks; cereals, granolas and other grain products; fats, oils and dressings; and carbonated soft drinks.  The companies participating in the pledge sold 60.4 trillion calories in 2007, the year defined as the baseline measurement for the pledge. In 2012, they sold 54 trillion calories. This 6.4 trillion calorie decline translates into a reduction of 78 calories per person in the United States per day.

Barry Popkin and his colleagues in North Carolina report this evaluation in two parts.  The first says:

The 16 HWCF companies collectively sold approximately 6.4 trillion fewer calories (–10.6%) in 2012 than in the baseline year of 2007. Taking
into account population changes over the 5-year period of 2007–2012, CPG [Consumer Package Goods]caloric sales from brands included in the HWCF pledge declined by an average of 78 kcal/capita/day. CPG caloric sales from non-HWCF national brands during the same period declined by 11 kcal/capita/day, and there were similar declines in calories from private label products. Thus, the total reduction in CPG caloric sales between 2007 and 2012 was 99 kcal/capita/day.

The second paper looked at sales data for households.  It concludes that although sales of calories declined, they were already declining before the pledge.

Post-pledge reductions in calories purchased from HWCF brands were less than expected, and reductions in calories purchased from non-HWCF name brands and PLs [Private Labels] were greater than expected after economic, sociodemographic, and secular factors were accounted for.  If the 16 HWCF companies had been able to maintain their pre-pledge trajectory, there should have been an additional 42 kcal/capita/day reduction in calories purchased from HWCF products in 2012 among households with children.

Mary MacVean’s account in the Los Angeles Times quotes any number of experts calling this an impressive achievement that will not, however, “reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity, especially among poor people and some minority groups.”

She quotes Popkin:

The calories purchased has really gone down. And most of the decline is in the kind of food you and I would call junk food or junk beverages.. But not all the news is positive…What we don’t have is an increase in beans, whole grains, produce.

Much publicity will be made of this small step in the right direction.  But what does it mean?

Is the reduction in calories due to lower sales of packaged foods in general—the secular trend—or to food companies’ taking the pledge seriously.  I vote for secular trends—fewer sugary soft drinks and sugary cereals.

The lack of evidence for increased purchases of healthier foods also is troubling.

Big retailers still show no evidence of promoting healthier foods.

Overall, this pledge is about selling packaged food products, not foods.

And what counts is what’s actually eaten.

The bottom line: Eat your veggies.

If you do—and manage to keep packaged, highly processed foods to a minimum—you don’t need to worry about any of this.

Addition, September 19:  I learned about these papers from a reporter, who sent me the two reports and an accompanying commentary by officials of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  I learned later that the journal also published another commentary on the papers, this one by Dariush Mozaffarian, now dean of the Friedman School at Tufts.  His analysis makes clear that the reduction in calories is fully explained by secular trends, of which food companies were well aware:

In this setting, the pledge appears to have been a stroke of marketing genius, turning their steadily declining calorie sales into a novel opportunity for self-promotion, an easily publicized but deceptive “sham” pledge that merely reflected ongoing trends…Although the food industry is a necessary partner for effective future solutions to address suboptimal diet, now the leading modifiable cause of U.S. deaths, we must remain vigilant and cautious about their intentions and objectively assess the evidence for real change—especially for promises that appear too good to be true.

 

Feb 7 2014

Coca-Cola marketing scores again

Far be it from me to defend Coca-Cola’s advertisements.  They have only one purpose: to get you to buy more of the company’s flavored, colored, caffeinated water with nearly a teaspoon of sugar per ounce.

Drink a 20-ounce Coke?  That’s 18 teaspoons.

But you have to hand it to Coke’s marketers.

They just got me to write about the fuss over the company’s “It’s Beautiful” Super Bowl ad, which shows people of all colors and kinds singing America the Beautiful in—can you believe this?—foreign languages.

The response?  Tweeted bigotry:

WTF? @CocaCola has America the Beautiful being sung in different languages in a #SuperBowl commercial? We speak ENGLISH here, IDIOTS.

What amazes me about the response is that Coca-Cola has been doing commercials like this for decades.

Remember these?

Why this sudden outpouring of xenophobia and homophobia?  

It’s disturbing to think about why this is happening now, but I won’t be surprised if the controversy brings Coke lots of favorable publicity and helps the company sell even more sugary beverages.

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