by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

Jan 27 2012

Guess what: Traffic light labels work

A study published online in the American Journal of Public Health fiddled around with red (avoid) and green (eat me) labels on items in a hospital cafeteria.

The investigators measured sales before the start of the intervention.  About a quarter of items sold were in the red category and 42% were green—these hospital workers were already making healthy choices.

The intervention took place in two 3-month phases.  The first phase just involved traffic light labels.  In the second phase, the investigators moved the items around to make the green-labeled products more visible and accessible.

The results: labels alone led to decreases in sales of red-labeled items and increases in sales of those with green labels.

For example, sales of red-labeled drinks decreased by 16.5%.  When the drinks were made less accessible, sales declined by an additional 11.4% (sales of bottled water increased).

No wonder the food industry in Great Britain fought so hard against traffic light front-of-package labeling.  No wonder the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute much prefer their own guaranteed-not-to-work system.

And data like these surely explain why the FDA is taking so long to do anything with the Institute of Medicine’s proposed labeling system—not exactly traffic lights, but pretty close.

This study provides further evidence for the value of such schemes for helping people make healthier choices.

FDA: get busy!

Jan 23 2012

Catching up with items about beverage marketing

I’ve been saving up items about beverages, mostly having to do with marketing:

Soda companies vs. civic public health campaigns: In strategies reminiscent of those used by tobacco companies, soda companies are filing suit to obtain documents from public agencies all over the country.  Digging them up takes staff time and effort and slows down the real work of these agencies—the point of this approach.

Sonic’s marketing campaign, Limeades for Learning (“when you sip, kids learn”) encourages purchasers of its high-calorie drinks (620 for a medium, 950 for a large) to vote for school projects.

Dr Pepper Snapple’s diet—oops, low-calorie—10-calorie Dr Pepper Ten is aimed at men.  Men, it seems, like low-calorie sodas but squirm at the notion of diet sodas.

Coke covers both bases.  Diet Coke targets women and Coke Zero targets men in an “it’s not for women” campaign.   Is this ad offensive?  It not only excludes half the market, says Food Navigator’s Carolyn Scott-Thomas, but is

patronizing to both men and women in its reinforcement of what I had (perhaps naively) hoped were outdated stereotypes….It deliberately picks at the edges of our comfort zones.  Is it OK to be sexist if it’s done with irony?…Provocation is a blunt instrument.  It may prove effective for sales—perhaps as effective as sexually explicit marketing—but it is still crude and obtuse.”

She asks: “Would this ad be offensive if it involved a bunch of redneck clichés and proclaimed ‘it’s not for blacks’?  You bet it would.”

Coca-Cola has launched a global music effort to connect with teens.  Coke CEO Muhtar Kent says:

Our success in growing our sparkling category today depends on our ability to grow and connect with teens, the generation of tomorrow.

Pepsi, not to be outdone, has invented a social marketing vending machine for the digital age.  Buy a drink and you now have the opportunity to send one as a gift to a friend or a random stranger.

The Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics weighs in on sports and energy drinks.  Its tough report begins with the statement that “Sports and energy drinks are being marketed to children and adolescents for a variety of inappropriate uses.”

Sports drinks…may contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring and are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise.

In contrast…energy drinks also contain substances that act as nonnutritive stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, l-carnitine, creatine, and/or glucuronolactone, with purported ergogenic or performance-enhancing effects.

The report ends with this unambiguous conclusion:

the use of sports drinks in place of water on the sports field or in the school lunchroom is generally unnecessary. Stimulant containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents.

In response, Red Bull says it is not marketing to children.  Instead, it says, the company totally follows the “agreed codes of practice for the marketing and labelling of energy drinks.”

Just for fun I looked up some advertising budgets reported in Advertising Age. For 2010, Coca-Cola spent $267 million just to advertise Coke, Pepsi spent $154 million just to advertise Pepsi and another $113 million for Gatorade, and Dr. Pepper spent a mere $22 million for Snapple.

These expenses are just for those individual products and just for campaigns run through advertising agencies.  Pepsi’s total advertising budget that year was $1.01 billion.

Water, anyone?

 

 

 

Dec 31 2011

Looking ahead: food politics in 2012

My monthly Food Matters (first Sunday) column in the San Francisco Chronicle takes out a crystal ball…

Q: What’s on the food politics agenda for 2012? Can we expect anything good to happen?

A: By “good,” I assume you mean actions that make our food system safer and healthier for consumers, farmers, farm workers and the planet.

Ordinarily, I am optimistic about such things. This year? Not so much. The crystal ball is cloudy, but seems to suggest:

Political leaders will avoid or postpone taking action on food issues that threaten corporate interests. Sometimes Congress acts in favor of public health, but 2012 is an election year. Expect calls for corporate freedom to take precedence over those for responsible regulations. Maybe next year.

Something will happen on the farm bill, but what? Last fall’s secret draft bill included at least some support for producing and marketing fruits and vegetables, and only minimal cuts to SNAP (food stamps). Once that process failed, Congress must now adopt that draft, start over from scratch or postpone the whole mess until after the election.

SNAP participation will increase, but so will pressure to cut benefits. With the economy depressed, wages low and unemployment high, demands on SNAP keep rising. In 2011, SNAP benefits cost $72 billion, by far the largest farm bill expenditure and a tempting target for budget cutters. While some advocates will be struggling to keep the program’s benefits intact, others will try to transform SNAP so it promotes purchases of more healthful foods. Both groups should expect strong opposition.

Childhood obesity will be the flash point for fights about limits on food marketing. The Lancet recently summarized the state of the science on successful obesity interventions: taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages, restrictions on marketing such items, traffic-light front-of-package food labels, and programs to discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and television viewing. Expect the food industry to continue to get Congress to block such measures, as it did with U.S. Department of Agriculture school nutrition standards (hence: pizza counts as a vegetable).

The Federal Trade Commission will postpone release of nutrition standards for marketing to children. Although Congress asked for such standards in the first place – and the standards are entirely voluntary – it just inserted a section in the appropriations bill requiring a cost-benefit analysis before the FTC can release them. Why does the food industry care about voluntary restrictions? Because they might work (see previous prediction).

The Food and Drug Administration will delay issuing front-of-package labeling guidelines as long as it can. The FDA asked the Institute of Medicine for advice about such labels. The institute recommended labels listing only calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium and sugars – all nutrients to avoid. Although the institute did not mention traffic-light labels, it did recommend check marks or stars, which come close. The food industry much prefers its own method, Facts Up Front, which emphasizes “good-for-you” nutrients. It is already using this system. Will the FDA try to turn the institute recommendations into regulations? Maybe later.

The FDA will (still) be playing catch-up on food safety. The FDA got through the 2011 appropriations process with an increase of about $50 million for its inspection needs. This is better than nothing but nowhere near what it needs to carry out its food safety mandates. The FDA currently inspects less than 2 percent of imported food shipments and 5 percent of domestic production facilities. The overwhelming nature of the task requires FDA to set priorities. Small producers think these priorities are misplaced. Is the FDA going after them because they are easier targets than industrial producers whose products have been responsible for some of the more deadly outbreaks? Time will tell.

On the bright side, the food movement will gather even more momentum. While the food industry digs in to fight public health regulations, the food movement will continue to attract support from those willing to promote a healthier and more sustainable food system. Watch for more young people going into farming (see Chronicle staff writer Amanda Gold’s Dec. 25 article) and more farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, school meal initiatives, and grassroots community efforts to implement food programs and legislate local reforms. There is plenty of hope for the future in local efforts to improve school meals, reduce childhood obesity, and make healthier food more available and affordable for all.

And on a personal note: In April, University of California Press will publish my co-authored book, “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.” I’m hoping it will inspire more thinking and action on how we can change our food system to one that is better for people and the planet.

Happy new year!

 

Dec 12 2011

Food companies expand sales in emerging markets

Publicly traded companies cannot simply make a profit.  They must grow profits and report growth to Wall Street every 90 days.  This requirement is tough on all corporations, but especially tough on those selling food.  People can only eat so much.

To expand sales, food companies desperately seek new markets.  Last week, The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal described how food corporations are marketing processed foods to the poorest inhabitants of developing countries.

According to The Guardian,

Nestlé is using a floating supermarket to take its products to remote communities in the Amazon. Unilever has a small army of door-to-door vendors selling to low-income villages in India and west and east Africa. The brewer SABMiller has developed cheap beers in some African countries as part of a “price ladder” to its premium lager brands, and, as a leading Coca-Cola bottler and distributor, is aiming to double fizzy drinks sales in South African townships.

Last year 39% of acquisition deals by consumer goods companies were in emerging markets, compared with just 1% in 2008, according to the Grocer’s OC&C Global 50 league table.

The Wall Street Journal follows a salesman in South Africa who is “digging for his gold” in poor neighborhoods:

While Nestlé’s usual sales staff focus on filling shelves of big supermarkets, Mr. Mugwambane and 80 other salespeople like him hunt for tiny shops across South Africa that will buy such Nestlé products as baby food and nondairy creamers, often in single-serving packages that appeal to Africa’s price-sensitive customers.

…Nestlé says it expects 45% of its sales to come from emerging markets by 2020, up from roughly 30% now.

From the standpoint of food companies, says The Guardian, this is about “finding innovative ways to give isolated people the kind of choices the rich have enjoyed for years and are providing valuable jobs and incomes to some of the most marginalised.”

Baby food and nondairy creamers?

Maybe selling items like these brings jobs to some people, but it also brings nutrient-poor diets, obesity, and the resulting chronic diseases to those populations.

The ultimate costs will be high.

Oct 4 2011

Food marketing gets plenty of attention, and about time!

Here are some of the latest reports on how food marketing influences eating patterns and obesity.

American University’s Kogod School of Business publishes a business magazine, Kogod Now.  It latest CoverStory takes a tough look at at how targeted marketing of foods and beverages contributes to the obesity crisis, especially among minority children and adolescents.

Cornell University’s Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink ask the question, “is food marketing making us fat?”  Their review of the research leads them to conclude that a “small steps” approach ought to help reverse obesity.   Recent analyses, however, suggest that reversing overweight is likely to take a lot more than small steps, but it’s worth reading what they have to say about marketing practices.

Two reports from Canada indicate that industry self regulation has little effect on actual food industry marketing practices.  Instead, banning the marketing of junk foods, as has been accomplished in Quebec, works somewhat better.

The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a look at how television watching affects obesity in children.  If kids watch a lot of TV–and they have a TV set in their bedrooms—they are at high risk of becoming obese.  The obvious conclusion?  Get rid of the TV!

It is heartening that so much of the research on obesity these days focuses on changing the food marketing environment.  Now if policymakers would just pay some attention!

May 14 2011

Welcome to Cool School Café (the mind boggles)

Thanks to a reader, Sam Boutelle, I have now been introduced to the Cool School Café.  This is a company that markets special deals on processed food products to school food service directors:

Cool School Cafe® Manufacturer Alliance (CSCMA), founded in 1995, is an industry leader in School Foodservice marketing. CSCMA is a unique resource for you, SFS Directors and purchase decision-makers, to learn about food manufacturers serving the industry plus have the opportunity to earn valuable marketing support for their meal program.

The way this works is that your school joins the program, and CSCMA lets you know about manufacturers’ special offers.  You buy the stuff and get points for everything you buy.  You redeem the points for free stuff.  Clever, no?

And what kinds of products are targeting schools?  Try this, for example:

I’ll bet you never would have guessed that something like this could be a health food!  Zero grams trans fat!  Only 35% sugar by weight!

Let’s hear it for nutritionism in action.  All a company has to do to get its products into schools is to get them to meet USDA’s standards for nutrients.

You think USDA should change from nutrient-based to food-based standards?  Here’s all the evidence you need.

 

Feb 3 2011

Dietary Guidelines: Why we need them

In an article about fast food marketing, the Los Angeles Times explains as clearly as could be why Dietary Guidelines matter so much.  The article is titled “Eat less, U.S. says as fast-food chains super-size their offerings.”

Why would fast food chains want to offer hot dogs, hamburgers, and burritos ranging from 800 t0 1,600 calories each?  How’s this for a candid answer:

The bottom line is we’re in the business of making money, and we make money off of what we sell,” said Beth Mansfield, spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains. “If we wanted to listen to the food police and sell nuts and berries and tofu burgers, we wouldn’t make any money and we’d be out of business.

You want to help people stay healthy?  That makes you food police.

If you care about public health, you can expect to be called names.  But that shouldn’t stop you from trying to create a healthier food system.

And thanks to Sheila Viswanathan of the GoodGuide for sending the article.


Sep 11 2010

The latest in marketing genius: “Baby” Carrots

Eat them like junk food! That’s the slogan of the new, over-the-top advertising campaign for “baby” carrots. I put “baby” in quotes because they aren’t.

I hate to be the one to break this to you but baby carrots are plain old ordinary adult carrots, cut and scraped into baby-size pieces.

Mind you, I’m a nutritionist and we do love carrots. And the CDC says only about one-quarter of Americans eat three servings of vegetables a day.

But $25 million to sell them on the basis of sex (I’m not kidding) or, violence (sigh)?

Well, at least they aren’t marketing these to kids.  For that, we have to go back a few years to the Sponge Bob “baby” carrots of 2006 or so (see below).  I haven’t seen those packages lately.  Guess that idea didn’t work.

Will this new campaign work any better?

[Thanks to Michael Bulger for sending the links.]