Category: junk food

Box Tops for Education: junk food marketing by another name

Box Tops for Education

Image by General Mills via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Andy Bellatti recently posted a piece at Civil Eats (that was also picked up by HuffPost) about the not-so-stealthy marketing of highly processed foodstuffs to kids and their parents. As he describes,

One of the most well-recognized examples of this sort of covert marketing is General Mills’ Box Tops for Education program, which launched in 1996 and has has earned $525 million for participating schools since its inception. The premise is simple: Most General Mills products contain one “box top,” equivalent to a ten-cent donation to participating schools. These can be clipped off and submitted to participating schools via a volunteer coordinator.

What could be wrong with this? As Jean Hopfensperger wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2012, “While some critics charge that it’s one more example of corporate marketing seeping into the nation’s schools, volunteers who run the programs say cutting box tops for 10 cents a crack is a relatively simple way to raise money for cash-strapped classrooms.”

Nevertheless, as Bellatti notes, “First and foremost, this is a marketing boon for General Mills”:

Dr. Marion Nestle understands why the food industry is so keen on these sorts of programs…. “Get kids to demand that parents buy sugary cereal boxes so they can collect the box tops to be used to buy school equipment,” she tells me. “The schools may get the equipment but the winner here is the cereal company. It sells more boxes and generates great goodwill among kids, parents, and schools, all of them thoroughly distracted from the effect of the products on health.”

As Hopfensperger details,

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., has been trying to convince General Mills to offer more healthy options.

In 2007, the center evaluated the nutritional content listed on the box tops of products ranging from Cocoa Puffs to Bugles, she said. It found that 80 percent had “poor nutritional value.” That was five years ago, she said, so the data may have changed.

“It is not consistent with General Mills’ pledge to not market unhealthy food to children,” Wootan said.

[Zack] Ruderman [director of Box Tops for Education] responded that parents can choose to buy whatever they want, including nonfood items — and that Box Tops for Education does not market to children, but to parents.

“If it’s for parents, why not run it through a workplace, or a Kiwanis club, or some other organization?” Wootan said. “School is where the kids are.”

Indeed, and that’s why the Box Tops program is in schools. For more, check out Bellatti’s full piece here.

Your favorite food is NOT like crack, so quit saying so

Pinkberry!

Photo by Flickr user wEnDaLicious, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A few weeks ago, L.V. Anderson had a great piece at Slate about that most ubiquitous of contemporary food metaphors. As she describes,

Saying that a food is “like crack” … is intended to be an edgy way of emphasizing how instantly gratifying it is, and how difficult it is to stop eating it once it’s in front of you. Unfortunately, all it really does is demonstrate how out of touch and callously classist foodie culture has become….

Crack is the drug metaphor of choice among food worshipers precisely because it’s alien to them. To someone who swoons over a “crack cookie,” crack is an abstraction, a vague stand-in for “intense, addictive pleasure.” These foodies never consider the fact that crack abuse is a devastating problem for some people, because they never have to.

For the full post, which includes some fantastic links, head here.

“Natural” not all it’s cracked up to be

All Natural!

Photo by Flickr user chris.franson, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

So-called natural foods are everywhere you look in the supermarket. As Marion Nestle describes in a recent post for The San Francisco Chronicle,

In the last decade, new products marketed with “natural” claims have proliferated, and it’s easy to understand why. Marketers love the term. “Natural” sells products, not the least because consumers consider it a synonym for healthful and, often, for organic. Anyone would rather buy “100 percent natural seltzer water”—”calorie-free, no sugar, no sodium, gluten-free” (things never found in water)—than plain seltzer.

While “natural” does not necessarily mean “healthy” or even “healthier,” it works splendidly as a marketing term and explains why many junk-food manufacturers are switching from expensive organic ingredients to those they can market as “natural.”

The FDA isn’t fixing this situation because, according to a statement in response to a petition by Center for Science in the Public Interest, it’s “not an enforcement priority.”

Manufacturers of highly processed foods could not be happier with this nondecision.

For the full piece, which probes the FDA’s squishy definition of natural, head here. For more on the subject, check out my earlier post on this issue which is chock full of links.

Foodies’ secret love for mass-produced munchies

As I mentioned awhile back, The Conscientious Omnivore is not above scarfing down MUNCHIES® and jellybeans now and then. This piece from Jeff Gordinier in Monday’s New York Times reassuringly points out that even haute cuisine chefs and devoted locavores can have a soft spot for some mass-market, factory-made food products.

As the article notes, some of us can’t let go of industrial foodstuffs because they hit our nostalgia nerve, whisking us back to childhood. For example, I’m still staunchly on the side of Jif in the Skippy vs. Jif battle, even though nowadays I enjoy and only buy natural, organic PB. I’m also old enough to have discovered just how delicious a pretzel sandwiched between two Doritos could be, long before Frito-Lay started producing the aforementioned MUNCHIES®. On the other hand, many childhood pleasures no longer hold any appeal for me (e.g., Ho Hos and Twinkies), and some have been replaced by pleasures that I discovered as an adult. (Yay, Swedish fish!)

Given the moralistic judgment inherent in calling such food “guilty pleasures,” I was glad to see that Gordinier talked with Aaron Bobrow-Strain, author of White Bread: “The way he sees it, arguments about food too often degenerate into a false duality between ‘the virtuous people’ and ‘the pitiful people in need of saving who just can’t make the right decisions.'”

Head here for the full piece.