Category: marketing

Gluten-free continues to grow

Gluten Free Tours.

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

Thanks to J., I just read a recent article by Stephanie Strom at The New York Times that examines growing sales of gluten-free foodstuffs at grocery stores. (This despite the relatively small percentage of the population with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.) As she describes,

Harry Balzer, vice president at the market research company NPD Group, where he has followed the food industry for some 30 years, [said] “About 30 percent of the public says it would like to cut back on the amount of gluten it’s eating, and if you find 30 percent of the public doing anything, you’ll find a lot of marketers right there, too.”…

One of the biggest challenges for big grocery chains … is that the supply of gluten-free products is largely made up of small local and regional brands. “There are few dominant national brands, and consumers are very loyal to their local brands,” said Tim Mahan, general manager for Nature’s Marketplace. “Trying to strike a balance between having a meaningful assortment but still satisfying that loyalty is a challenge.”

The fractured market has created a bonanza for smaller food companies that do not have legacy processing plants laden with traces of gluten, a challenge faced by many major food producers. In 2011, for example, Smart Balance, an investor in small food companies specializing in healthful products, paid $66.3 million for Glutino, a gluten-free bakery operation.

A year later, it spent about twice that amount for Udi’s, another gluten-free baking operation. “Udi’s claim to fame was that he provided the first gluten-free bread you could actually eat — and that’s cracking a pretty tough code,” said Stephen Hughes, the chief executive of Boulder Brands, as Smart Balance is now known.

Last August, the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees food labeling, ruled that products labeled gluten free were permitted to contain no more than 20 parts of gluten per million, which made it more difficult for large food companies to get into the business. “You really need to have a captive facility because wheat floats,” Mr. Hughes said.

The full piece is worth a read; check it out here.

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.

Jon Stewart shreds Velveeta “shortage”

Photo by Flickr user Jared Klett, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

If you’re lucky, you’ve managed to avoid the ridiculous media coverage of a purported shortage of Velveeta that threatens to destroy Super Bowl parties everywhere. If you haven’t, The Daily Show calls out this marketing BS with characteristic flair. On the heels of footage of a reporter stating that 11 of 12 grocery stores he visited did, in fact, have Velveeta on their shelves, Jon Stewart has this to say:

But wait a minute. I know what you’re saying, that this [supposed shortage] isn’t real. Are you implying that the makers of Velveeta would attempt to pass off as real some sort of blatantly artificial, clearly unnatural synthetic creation? You, sir, clearly don’t know Velveeta.

Stewart then goes on the skewer coverage of a virus affecting hundreds of pork production facilities, and that half of the segment is even better. (Wait for Stewart to shout, “Look at it!”)

Check out the segment yourself at Comedy Central or on Hulu.

Coca-Cola urges restaurants to “Cap the Tap”

Coca Cola Classic

Photo by Flickr user Kate Sumbler [ktpupp], used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Andy Bellatti recently posted a great piece at Civil Eats calling out a bit of corporate hypocrisy. As he describes, Coca-Cola

launched a  “Cap the Tap” program–aimed at restaurants–in 2010, described in the following manner on the Coke Solutions Web site:

Capture Lost Revenue By Turning Off the Tap.

Every time your business fills a cup or glass with tap water, it pours potential profits down the drain. The good news: Cap the Tap™–a program available through your Coca-Cola representative–changes these dynamics by teaching crew members or wait staff suggestive selling techniques to convert requests for tap water into orders for revenue-generating beverages.

… Coca-Cola suggests restaurant waitstaff “turn off the tap” and offers to teach servers how to suggest “profitable beverages” to consumers, citing free refills….

As Bellatti notes,

It should not come as a surprise that the food and beverage industry will do whatever it can to maximize profits. However, a significant problem arises when this sort of campaign is created by a company that talks about its “commitments” to health and enjoys positive publicity from its partnerships with (or support of) health organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Society of Nutrition, and The Obesity Society.

“Cap the Tap” is a perfect example of the doublespeak that Big Food and Big Soda often employ. The carefully calculated veneer of wanting to be “part of the solution” and “offering choices” to consumers is negated by efforts like this one, which basically paints tap water as an enemy to be defeated.

Check out the full article, which includes plenty of links, here.

Food news, ripped from the (fake) headlines

It’s been awhile (more than 6 months, in fact) since my last post that focused on food satire. So, it’s time for another laugh at the habits, restaurants, and foods that we love, hate, and/or love to hate. Courtesy of The Onion, check out these recent stories:

Report: American People Lead World In Compressing Big Sandwiches So They’re Bitable (with video!)

“When it comes to manually compressing a towering heap of meat, cheese, and bread into manageable bites, U.S. residents are far more adept than their peers in other nations,” said lead researcher Hugh Newell….

T.G.I. Friday Game Wall

Photo by Flickr user waynesutton12, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

T.G.I. Friday’s Bankrupt After Spending Billions On Priceless Americana

“In retrospect buying game-used, Babe Ruth–autographed baseball bats to display in each of our 900 locations was probably a mistake,” said company president Ricky Richardson, who confirmed the casual dining establishment had laid off more than half its staff, beginning with the thousands of full-time curators it employed to maintain its massive collection of memorabilia.

Extremely Vibrant Town Able To Sustain Two Buffalo Wild Wings

“Normally, having more than one Buffalo Wild Wings in a single municipality isn’t remotely feasible from an economic standpoint, but in Peoria, which is essentially the very definition of a boomtown, it’s almost expected,” said University of Chicago economist Robert Lucas….

Area Woman Almost Imagines Taste Of Peppermint Mocha On Tongue But Stops Herself

Her senses bewitched by the intoxicating memory of peppermint-flavored syrup, local woman Kate Nothern saved herself from the bitterest of agonies Friday morning when, regaining control of her faculties in the nick of time, she stopped herself from imagining the taste of a peppermint mocha on her tongue.

Marketing junk food to kids

Anna Lappé‘s Food MythBusters has a new video out. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, her message will be familiar, but it’s definitely worth hearing again. As she details in a column at Civil Eats*,

Big Food and its PR machine are pushing high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar foods and drinks on our kids all the time—the very products at the heart of this generation’s health problems.

And while we parents are charged with ensuring our kids make healthy choices, our work is being made more difficult for us by the advertising might of Big Food. The reality is kids are bombarded at every age with exploitative advertising telling them junk food is cool to eat.

This marketing goes well beyond ads on TV. If only it were as easy as just turning off the TV or tossing it out. Today, junk-food marketing to kids is everywhere—from public schools to sports events to specially branded Web sites like

Read her full post, visit the Food MythBusters website, and watch the video on YouTube.


* As of this writing, Civil Eats is currently trying raise $100K to keep their independent food journalism site up and running. Learn more and contribute to the campaign on Kickstarter.

“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.