by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

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….

Jul 13 2020

Food marketing trick of the week: Burger King and Swedish passports

A reader, Max Hultberg, sends this amazing item, which I thought was a joke but apparently is not:

Hey Marion!

I’d like to pitch this news tip from Burger King Sweden.

Repurpose your Swedish passport as a stamp card at Burger King

Sweden’s been criticized for their relaxed COVID-19 strategy, which has made it difficult for citizens to travel abroad. Even when some countries start open up, Swedes in particular are not welcome.

So Burger King Sweden now offers another use for dust collecting passports – by letting you repurpose them and use them as stamp cards. Instead of a regular passport stamp, you’ll get a BK stamp. Each new stamp equals one free burger from their new ”World Gourmet”-series.

As I keep saying, when it comes to food marketing, you can’t make this stuff up.

You can even watch a film of how this works.

Jul 6 2020

Annals of food marketing: pistachios have amino acids (duh)!

I was fascinated to see this ad in the June 8 & 15 issue of the New Yorker inside the back cover:

I like pistacchios, but never thought of them as a protein source and in any case so what?  Protein is anything but lacking in American diets.

I went right to the website, AmericanPistachios.org: “Breaking News: Pistachios are a complete protein.”  I read more: A study shows that pistachios have all 9 essential amino acids.

Here’s the study:

I assumed that the study was paid for by the pistachio association, but if so, the funding was well laundered.  The disclosure statement says: “This study was funded by a Specialty Crop Grant from the US Department of Agriculture.”  The USDA supports pistachio marketing.

OK.  Here’s why I think this ad is absurd.

  • Americans consume roughly twice the amount of protein needed.
  • Most food proteins, even those from plants, contain all 9 essential amino acids.
  • Pistachios are already known to contain the essential amino acids (see the USDA food composition data base).
  • 100 grams of pistachios contain 21 grams of protein BUT also 572 calories.
  • Other nuts have all those amino acids too (see composition data for walnuts, for example).

I suppose it’s good to educate New Yorker readers about how plants have protein—they do!—but the emphasis on protein makes no nutritional sense.

The Pistachio trade association must think whatever this ad costs is worth the expense.*  Let’s hear it for marketing!

*What does it cost?  This depends on the size of the market—the circulation in a particular area—which can vary from one borough of New York to the whole country, and must be highly negotiable.

Jun 26 2020

Weekend reading: marketing of sugary drinks to minorities

The COVID-19 pandemic has pointed out how the higher risk of complications and death among members of minority groups.  The reasons are fairly well established.  Members of minority groups are more likely to:

  • Be overweight
  • Have diet-related risk factors: hypertension, type-2 diabetes, multiple metabolic problens
  • Live in high-pollution areas
  • Have asthma
  • Suffer from the daily stress of discrimination
  • Lack sick leave benefits
  • Have poor health care

The .latest report from Rudd Center on Food and Obesity Policy, Sugary Drinks FACTS 2020, highlights how sellers of sugary drinks target their products to minority populations.  The press release says that the report found:

  • In 2018, companies spent $84 million to advertise regular soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks on Spanish-language TV, an increase of 8% versus 2013 and 80% versus 2010.
  • Sports drink brands disproportionately advertised on Spanish-language TV, dedicating 21% of their TV advertising budgets to Spanish-language TV, compared to 10% on average for all sugary drinks.
  • Compared to White children and teens, Black children saw 2.1 times as many sugary drink ads and Black teens saw 2.3 times as many. Black youth exposure was particularly high for sports drinks, regular soda, and energy drinks.

Click here for the full report. 

The report’s main finding:

CNN has an excellent account of this, in which I am quoted.

Experts say soda companies have also taken a page out of the tobacco industry’s marketing playbook, by providing funding for many Black communities and endeavors “in ways that don’t look like advertising, like funding playgrounds in minority neighborhoods, minority community groups, and sponsorship of Black and Hispanic sports figures,” said Marion Nestle, who also authored “Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics.”  “These work,” Nestle said. “Minority kids identify soda brands with sports figures, and minority community groups find it hard to oppose soda company marketing when the companies have been so generous.”
The account refers to the CEO of Pepsi’s statement on the company’s efforts to address race.  I am quoted again:
“The great irony of Ramon Laguarta’s promises to counter PepsiCo’s conscious or unconscious racist practices in the company, its business, and communities is that none of them addresses targeted marketing,” said Nestle.
“The best thing Pepsi could do to improve the health of its customers would be to stop advertising and marketing to children and teenagers, especially those of color,” Nestle added.
Addition, June 29
US Right to Know also has an excellent article on this topic.
Jun 23 2020

Food companies respond to #BlackLivesMatter—and about time!

Here’s progress, and about time too.  This long called for, and long overdue decision has been covered by CNN (6/17), New York Times (6/17), Food Dive (6/17), USA Today (6/18), and Reuters (6/18).

CPG firms review, overhaul black brand mascots:  Following Quaker Oat’s decision to rebrand its Aunt Jemima line, the parent companies of brands Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Cream of Wheat — all of which have black mascots — have plans to change or review the brands’ logos and packaging. “[W]e are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism,” B&G Foods said about Cream of Wheat’s chef image in a statement.

PepsiCo’s CEO promises a complete overhaul:

So today, I am announcing the next step in PepsiCo’s journey for racial equality: a more than $400 million set of initiatives over five years to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo. These initiatives make up a holistic effort for PepsiCo to walk the talk of a leading corporation and help address the need for systemic change.

These changes are steps in the right direction.  To make them meaningful, companies must push for a cultural transformation and be willing to openly confront deeply embedded but sometimes unconscious attitudes and behavior.

Let’s hope these promises result in real change.

For some context, take a look at Toni Tipton-Martin’s, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cooking, and her article about the retirement of the image in Sunday’s New York Times.

And then there’s this perfect image for food politics (source unknown, alas):

Addition

A reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, writes: “The removal of the Aunt Jemima image reminds me of artist Betye Saar’s 1972 assemblage, “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima.”  I see that Betye Saar has responded: “She’s liberated! Finally at long last!”

Jun 22 2020

The NCD Alliance has a map of industry marketing responses to Covid-19

The NCD [non-communicable disease] Alliance is a network of more than 2000 organizations in 170 countries.  Its purpose to to raise awareness of NCDs—type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and the like—among international agencies and to develop civil society capacity to prevent these conditions.

It has produced an interactive world map of examples of unhealthy industry responses to Covid-19.

Here’s an example from Jamaica.

This is an easy, one-stop shopping place to find out how food companies are exploiting Covid-19 to market products.

Make a note of it.