by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

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.]

Aug 11 2010

More about imaginative food marketing

The Pop-Tarts store in Times Square (see yesterday’s post) is only the loudest example of innovative food marketing to come out recently.  I’ve been collecting more subtle examples:

Using social media (and getting customers to pay for it): For 99 cents to I-tunes, you can buy an app that gives nutritional information for products at Jack-in-the-Box or at McDonald’s.   As Mark Douglas of Culinate explains: “They want $0.99 to tell you what you probably already know… Watch Out!”

Co-opting health professionals: Michele Simon (author of Appetite for Profit) writes on AlterNet about how PepsiCo hires distinguished health professionals and experts to give a company that sells snack foods and soft drinks an aura of health and wellness.

Co-opting professional organizations: Lisa Young (the Portion Teller) points me to a Webinar on August 25 run by the industry-sponsored School Nutrition Foundation and the Milk Processor Education Program on what is surely an urgent issue for sellers of chocolate (sugar-added) milk: “Keep flavored milk from dropping out of school!”

Deflecting attention from diet: Lisa sends another Webinar notice for September 14, this one for “skills & tools to enhance change in physical activity behavior.”  Its sponsor?

The Coca-Cola Company’s Beverage Institute For Health & Wellness is a Continuing Professional Education (CPE) Accredited Provider with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) – provider number BF001.

Plain, old-fashioned lobbying: Food Safety News has a nifty report on food company lobbying expenditures (huge), mainly on the food safety bill but also on many other bills that might affect labeling or sales of food products.

I reviewed these methods in my book, Food Politics. A revised edition came out in 2007.  Not much change, alas.

Addition: Attracting school kids: Michele Simon sends this Pepsi partnership with Hy-Vee stores in Iowa.  Parents buy five Pepsi products; Pepsi buys backpacks for their kids.

Aug 10 2010

The latest in food marketing: Pop-Tarts in Times Square

You have to see New York City’s latest tourist attraction: a Pop-Tarts World Store in Times Square.  OK, M&Ms has a fabulous light display.  OK, Hershey’s has an enormous store filled with chocolate tchotchkes.  But Pop-Tarts?   I think it’s weird to turn Times Square into a food court (with tee shirts) but hey, I’m not in the junk food business.

Kellogg must think it’s worth the exorbitant cost of store frontage in the middle of New York City.  According to the account in the New York Times, a Kellogg spokesman said:

Our long-term hope is to strengthen the bonding between the brand and the consumer, and that has great benefits for the brand.

Others explain that “Just a presence in Times Square can help a company…It [is] a way to project an image of growth and maturity.”

I had no idea that bonds between brands and consumers needed strengthening.  It never occurred to me that Times Square projects an image of maturity.

OK, it’s cute that Kellogg named Pop-Tarts after Pop Art, but Pop-Tarts as a tourist destination?

Check it out and let me know!

Update, August 12: Here is Mark Bittman’s review.

Update, August 16: And here is CNN’s take on it (I’m interviewed, briefly).

Feb 11 2010

What Mrs. Obama’s campaign does not do: food marketing to kids

Mrs. Obama’s campaign to prevent childhood obesity did not mention food marketing to kids.  But check the latest research.

Researchers at UCLA took a careful look at the correlation between watching commercials on TV and childhood obesity (Their paper is in the February 2010 American Journal of Public Health).  Kids who watch commercials on TV are more likely to be obese than kids who watch non-commercial TV.  Commercials, of course, are largely for junk food and kids see a lot of them.  The authors conclude:

steering children away from commercial television may have a meaningful effect in reducing childhood obesity…The existence of many high-quality, enjoyable, and educational programs available on DVD for all ages should make it relatively easy for health educators and care providers to nudge children’s viewing toward less obesogenic television content [my emphasis].

Relatively easy?  They have to be kidding.  Food commercials are ubiquitous in kids’ lives.

For example, Lisa Sutherland and her colleagues at Dartmouth took a look at the prevalence of food brands (mostly junk foods) in movies from 1996 to 2005 (Pediatrics, February 2010).  There are loads of such placements, and movies aimed at younger kids tend to have the most.

As for industry self-regulation, Kelly Brownell and his colleagues at Yale have plenty to say about how it’s not working and what would be needed to make it work (also in the February American Journal of Public Health).

Michelle Obama may not be able to touch this one, but Congress can.  And it should.

Nov 10 2009

Raise your hand for chocolate milk?

Thanks to Marlene Schwartz of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale for alerting me to this Associated Press report about the new dairy industry campaign to rescue chocolate milk from the food police.  This, you will not be surprised to hear, is the latest activity funded by the milk checkoff program, a USDA-administered program that requires certain commodity producers to contribute funds to a kitty to be used for generic marketing.  One such program is MilkPep, the incredibly well funded marketing group that together with the Dairy Council invented the “Got Milk” mustache campaign.

MilkPep is now the proud defender of chocolate milk against efforts to get it out of schools.  Why would anyone be so mean as to want to do that?  Maybe because chocolate milk has more sugar and calories than plain milk?  No matter.  MilkPet is stepping up to the plate.  Its $500,000 to $1,000,000 “raise your hand for chocolate milk” campaign takes on those pesky nutrition advocates who think that kids ought to be eating something other than sweets in schools.

The rationale for the campaign?  If you get rid of chocolate milk, kids won’t drink milk.  You will deprive kids of the nutrients in milk and contribute to the “milk deficit.”   After all, this rationale goes, chocolate milk is better than soda (Oops.  Didn’t we just hear something like this relative to the Smart Choices fiasco?).

OK.  Let’s look at what this is really about:

  • Schools represent sales of 460 million gallons of milk – more than 7% of total milk sales
  • More than half (54%) of flavored milk is sold in schools
  • Chocolate milk is a key growth area for milk processors

MilkPep has produced a slide show to help companies take action (I apologize for not linking to it but I have not yet succeeded in uploading a large file, despite many attempts).  The slides advise allies to go on a “chocolate milk offensive”:

  • Do public relations
  • Get bloggers on board
  • Engage moms through social media
  • Take advantage of SuperBowl ads – the campaign intends to fund one
  • Reach out to media

Doesn’t this sound like something ripe for satire?  Colbert!  We need you!

Additions:  Do not miss the YouTube version.  And here’s theofficial MilkPep press release.  Note the testimonials to the benefits of chocolate milk.  It’s a health food!