Food Bites 2010

Brilliant bits of food industry insights from the weekly newsletter

Food bites… The power of pseudo-science

“The rejection of hard-won knowledge is by no means a new phenomenon. In 1905, French mathematician and scientist Henri Poincaré said that the willingness to embrace pseudo-science flourished because people ‘know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is not more consoling’. Decades later, the astronomer Carl Sagan reached a similar conclusion: Science loses ground to pseudo-science because the latter seems to offer more comfort. “A great many of these belief systems address real human needs that are not being met by our society,” Sagan wrote of certain Americans’ embrace of reincarnation, channeling, and extraterrestrials. “There are unsatisfied medical needs, spiritual needs, and needs for communion with the rest of the human community.”
Amy Wallace, writing in Read more 

Food bites… The evidence-less Happy Meal ban…

Image“… should remind us that the entire idea of fat children is largely a cultural construct, not a scientific one. A hundred years ago, today’s penchant for thin children would have been considered a shocking instance of child neglect. The idea that children weighing over a certain amount are fat or obese has no scientific foundation, as the dividing line between fat and normal is purely arbitrary, representing nothing more than a public health bureaucrat’s notion of where normal ends and fat begins.”
Patrick Basham and John Luik, of the Democracy Institue and coauthors of Diet Nation: Exposing the Obesity Crusade writing in Spiked on San Francisco’s ban of the McDonald’s Happy Meal. Read more

Food bites… Power shift

“‘The customer is always right’. Wrong. Frankly, the customer isn’t always right. But thanks to social media, now the customer certainly is always victorious. Fundamentally, the balance of power has shifted.”
Howard Fox, marketing director of Gordon Institute of Business Science, JHB. Read this article here

Food bites… The consumer wants it all

Bryan Urbick“If lack of time was the key driver towards convenience and thus processed foods, nothing has changed on that front. The current shift comes from people’s desire to return to ‘real food’. Consumers still want convenience, more so than ever, but they’re no longer prepared to compromise on the quality of what they eat. Thus, bringing real food values back to processed food is imperative and becoming a true cost of entry to their success.”
Bryan Urbick, founder and CEO of the Consumer Knowledge Centre, UK. Read this article here

  Food bites… The ultimate food marketing challenge

Image“The [American] food-and-drink market is always open to new tastes and flavours, but the challenge is getting people to try something more than once. Will they do it again when it’s no longer just new? And beyond the taste, does it make my life easier, and does it make my food costs cheaper? If it doesn’t do one of those two things and certainly doesn’t succeed on the first one, then forget it – it’s a one-time buy. For it to thrive, to capture more people, it has to be more than just providing the novelty of new.”
Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst with NPD, Chicago-based market research firm 

 Food bites… The whole supply chain needs revolution

Image“There’s a need to recognise that raw materials are not a tap to turn on, or off, at will. The industry cannot afford to pay lip service to farming, and farming is too fragile to subsidise the rest of the food chain. The world expects farmers to make an enormous transformation; to re-position our production systems to increase both their efficiency and their environmental sustainability. Globally, farming is big business, but it is not big enough to meet these challenges alone. This requires the active collaboration of all supply chain partners, from farmers and processors, to retailers and foodservice operators, and also consumers.”
Ton Christiaanse, UK head of meat processing giant, Vion UK, speaking in London

Food bites… So is Nestlé going to be transformed into a drugs company?

Image“This is very important, strategically speaking, because in our eyes it is going to be a major dimension in our society… It’s actually a new industry that’s in the making and is crystallising into a well-defined business opportunity. The productivity of society is linked with health. We don’t feel it so much in our society because we’re a relatively healthy society. But if you go into Africa, you see whole countries suffer because of malnourishment.

Then on the other side of the equation. there are the healthcare costs that are exploding. If you add it all up, there’s an increasing business opportunity to help society to give meaningful solutions and build a healthier society that’s more productive.”

Nestle CEO, Paul Bulcke, commenting on the recent launch of the group’s new health science businesses, at the nexus between food and pharmaceuticals. Read more

Food bites… Social media should be conversation not promotion

Image “Facebook allows us to have a real time conversation with fans and we’re approaching it from the perspective of a relationship, not a promotional tool… Were making friends not promotions online and using it in a conversational way, not a marketing way… In order for customers to be loyal to brands, brands need to be loyal to customers.”

Starbucks VP for marketing, Brian Waring, speaking at a conference in London. Starbucks says it has the biggest following of any global brand on Facebook with more than 10m fans. 

Food bites… Of men and chocolate biscuits

Image “Humans, who consider themselves the pinnacle of creation, have only about 30,000 genes. Cacao seems to have 35,000. Wheat DNA is believed to contain 40,000 genes. It is a droll discovery that on a numerical basis, a human seems genetically less complex than a chocolate biscuit. But it was the humans who sequenced wheat and cacao, and not the other way round. So clearly, size isn’t everything.”
Editorial in The Guardian, commenting on the decoding of the cocoa genome Read more 

Food bites… Let’s get real about food additives!

Image “Let’s analyse the cancer claim, since that is the most common reason for our distrust of “chemicals” in food or agriculture. Are we really dying more often of cancer than we used to? If so, our more sophisticated, tastier, safer, more plentiful and more attractive food may account for it. As it turns out, cancer rates did rise for some time until around 1990. In 1900, the three most common causes of death were influenza, tuberculosis and intestinal diseases. Two of these today rarely cause death, while influenza has become far less deadly. So instead of dying as a child of gastro-enteritis, or a 40-year-old of influenza, we carry on living. Of course, that exposes us to age-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.”

Ivo Vegter, columnist with The Daily Maverick, SA’s spunkiest news website. Read more 

Food bites… Wallet, not conscience, is king

Image “People will not pay more for sustainability. They will not pay for ethically grown products even though they say they will. It is expected. Most people are not willing to pay more for premium … People don’t necessarily want to pay for this but they just increasingly expect it. What you could get away with 15 years ago, you can’t now.”
David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing, Imperial College, London. Read more

 Food bites… The fundamental contradictions of modern food

“And that brings us to the fundamental contradictions of modern food: how to celebrate flavour, skill and quality without falling for all the local and organic bullshit; how to criticise the sharp practices of industrial food producers while celebrating the benefits of mass-produced food; how to see through the panics about obesity and diet while recognising that what we eat could also be better than it is now; recognising that learning the skill of cooking is an invaluable element of independence without falling for the lie that being chained to the kitchen will somehow solve every other social problem.”
Rob Lyons, in a crit on the book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, by Anthony Bourdain. Read more 

Food bites… Invest in the trends

Image “You can argue that every time there is a restriction on marketing or the composition of products — ie lowering sugar or salt — the companies that are going to benefit in the long term are those that are going to see the potential for enormous innovation and invest in it significantly, which is what we are doing. It is about making sure that the marketing today … is increasingly targeted towards healthier lifestyles and healthier eating.” 
Derek Yach, senior VP of global health policy, PepsiCo, ex-South African. Read more


Food bites… The power of the cereal box

Image “A box of cereal is some of the most valuable real estate in store. It’s a large panel. Most people eat breakfast with this thing sitting on their breakfast table, so it gets read. The opportunity to use the muscle of The Kellogg Company to be able to carry a Change 4 life message on our box is actually the best way that somebody like us can contribute. Anybody can write a cheque. Few people can get into as many homes as we do and spread the message.” 
Kellogg UK MD, Greg Peterson, when recently announcing significant reformulation plans for the cereal maker

Food bites… The meat/no meat debate

Eat meat debate “Every form of life deserves respect, not just charismatic megafauna made popular by Disney. Every species has a role. Every species is integral to the ecosystem. Every species is somebody’s hunter, somebody’s prey, somebody’s partner. To claim that animals have greater rights than plants is an assertion not based on an understanding of the biological world. Death is part of all life. A plant is as highly adapted for its niche as a pig. People who are vegetarians because they think killing animals for food is murder do not understand the biological world. But if they make their diet decision based on their emotional response to charismatic megafauna, that’s fine. But it unfairly elevates some species over others.”
Dr ML Tortorello, a renowned US microbiologist

Food bites… A provocative prescription for improving the food industry’s image

Image “It’s a mistake to simply respond defensively to the assault the industry endures from activists and media representatives. Instead, the food industry should work to communicate a message that addresses consumers’ ‘higher-level’ concerns, which tend to focus more generally on issues such as longevity/wellness and weight/health.
So much of what the food industry is talking about is ‘here’s the way in which our food won’t hurt you …we need to move ourselves up the benefit ladder to higher level benefits.”
Tom Nagle, Statler Nagle, a Washington, DC-based consulting firm

On the EU’s big health claim “nada”

“PowerHealth [a health food company] says that if you stop it making claims, people will buy from companies abroad  that can. They’re right. In the field of addiction we use harm reduction strategies, like  shooting galleries and prescribed opiates for heroin addicts, where the harmful effects of  widespread vices that will never go away are at least contained. You’ll never stop  companies making these claims. You’ll never stop people enjoying their claims. This game is  at least 200 years old. The best solution I can see is an EU-mandated bullshit box, where  people can say what they want about their product, consumers can join in, but the game is  clearly labelled.”
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian’s famous Bad Science detector. Read more    

Food bites… Live the brand promise

Image“… the best recommendation that we can give to brands and businesses is to always keep the highest levels of attention and control on their core brand promise and to never drop their guards when it comes to delivering on this promise in everything they do and say and on a daily basis. Nothing should get in the way of honoring the brand promise. To deliver the brand promise “religiously” at every moment is what gives the brand its “legitimacy” and its place in the mind and in the lives of customers around the world.”
Jean-Claude Saade, branding and communication consultant

Food bites… Artificial vs Natural?

Image“Both artificial and natural flavours are made by ‘flavourists’ in a laboratory by blending either ‘natural’ chemicals or synthetic chemicals to create flavourings… The search for ‘natural’ sources of chemicals often requires that a manufacturer go to great lengths to obtain a given chemical. Furthermore, the process is costly. This pure natural chemical is identical to the version made in an organic chemist’s laboratory, yet it is much more expensive than the synthetic alternative. Consumers pay a lot for natural flavourings. But these are in fact no better in quality, nor are they safer, than their cost-effective artificial counterparts.”
Prof Gary Reineccius, department of food science and nutrition, University of Minnesota [SA’s new labelling regulations prohibit any such flavourant distinction]

Food bites… Free choice in food?

Image“This is not a world in which individuals make free, fully informed choices about food. It is a world in which children are targeted by junk-food manufacturers from the youngest age. We live in a culture in which adult appetites are shaped by marketing that preys on our insecurities and emotional needs. It is an environment in which understanding the labels on our food practically requires a PhD in food chemistry. . .  Making healthy and responsible choices about food entails a constant battle against relentless pressures in the opposite direction.”

Felicity Lawrence, writing in The Guardian, read her article “Free choice isn’t healthy for the food industry’s menu”

Food bites… Adapt or die a slow death!

Image“The trend is obvious. Food marketers are facing the slow Ling Chi-like death of their product portfolios unless they change their mindsets. The old playbook doesn’t work anymore. They must recognize that there will always be the next sodium … the next ‘cut’. Instead of ‘delay and divert’, it is time to get ahead of the situation. With a new cohort of consumers demanding corporate responsibility for their health, advocates pushing for radical change in the food supply, and governments receptive to regulation, a smarter course of action by food marketers is to embrace that they are custodians of their customers’ well-being and to re-align their products, marketing practices, and business models accordingly. Otherwise, a slow death awaits.” 
Hank Cardello, author of “Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat”. Read more

Food bites… The food safety imperative

Image“Consumers have a right to expect safe, high-quality food. . . The thing to remember about food safety is that it is not a competitive advantage; it’s a point of entry. Everybody in the food industry, whether it’s a restaurant, grocery store, or manufacturer, has to provide safe, quality food.” 

Food bites… Invent the future

Image“We spend 80% of time on ‘rear-view’ research – brand-health tracking, validation and risk-avoidance research. On top of that, we spend 80% of our remaining time debating report cards. And, whether it’s good data or not, it’s all about explaining the past. No company has become great by using the past to predict the future. Companies become great by dreaming of the future and then taking the company there.”  

Stan Sthanunathan, Coca-Cola’s Vice President, marketing strategy and insights

Food bites… Supplements wasted on the healthy

Image“The irony is that people who have little need for supplementary vitamins and minerals are the ones most predisposed to take them. People with disposable income to spend on vitamins, who are interested in their health and well-being, these are the people who need them the least . . . It is very hard to demonstrate health in people who are already healthy.”
Prof Marion Nestle, arch food industry critic and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University

Food bites… Health and wellness. Huh?

Image“Health and wellness is one of the most complicated, convoluted, and contradictory constructs humankind has ever invented … and if consumers are getting smarter about what they eat, then knowledge must be very fattening.”
Mark Payne, US innovation consultant, quoted in IFT’s Food Technology Magazine

Food bites… The imperative of science for future food needs

Image“What will surely enhance everyone’s focus on science is the imperative to provide energy and food for a world population destined to rise to nine billion by mid-century. This challenge will be aggravated by climate change – so climate science needs better data, and modelling that can reliably predict regional impacts. And sustainable agriculture, in a world of water shortages and climate change, requires new technologies – genetic modification among them. We also need to preserve biodiversity and prevent a ‘sixth extinction’.”
Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, and president of the Royal Society

Breakfast bites… Is there a better way to start the day?

Image“The British used to lead the world at breakfasting. The Victorians refused to start their days without first grazing on fish, cold meats, pies, kedgeree, eggs, toast and jams. They dedicated recipe books to the meal with titles such as Breakfast Dishes for Every Morning of Three Months. They had stoves installed at the end of their tables just so that they could fry bacon and eggs. The 19th-century writer, Leigh Hunt, was moved to reflect that “breakfast is the forecast of the whole day. Spoil that and all is spoiled”.

“Yet the British breakfast was spoiled, drowned in bowl of soggy Rice Krispies. Mass-produced breakfast cereals first became popular in the mid-20th century – and have remained stuck to our national palate ever since, like a congealed Weetabix. While lunch and dinner have been transformed by their exposure to other cultures, breakfast has got stuck in a rut. It has become, in the words of Dr Kaori O’Connor, anthropologist and author of a biography of the English breakfast, “a kind of service operation, requiring neither thought nor enjoyment”. “

Beverage bites… A reverse take on the soft drink tax idea

Image“If I worked at Pepsi, I’d be actively lobbying for the obesity sweet soda tax (a penny an ounce) being proposed in New York. Instead, in a no-surprise knee jerk reaction, almost everyone in the industry is lobbying like crazy to stop it. This is dumb marketing.

The benefit of a tax is that it affects you and your competitors at the same time, so you all benefit from doing the right thing, as opposed to having to compete against someone who doesn’t care as much as you do.

Once people realise that excessive use of your product makes them sick and then die a long and painful death, it’s probably time to stop lobbying and time to start doing something about it. This industry should stop thinking it is in the corn syrup delivery business (which brings nasty side effects along with it) and start focusing on delivering joy in a bottle. Lots of interesting ways to do that without giving up profits.

If your success depends on sickening the poorest and least educated portion of your customer base (and the ones that buy the most from you), it’s time to redefine success.”
Seth Godin, US marketing linchpin

Food bites… Health claims hoopla

Image“I am not a fan of health claims on food packages or supplements. I think they are inherently misleading. It’s hard for me to believe that eating any one food product or supplement will have a significant effect on disease risk. It is one thing to say that a nutrient is required for good health. It is quite another to say that products containing that nutrient are going to have the same effect. We would all be better off eating foods rather than food products.”
Prof Marion Nestle writing on her blog, Food Politics

Food bites… The snacking craze

Image“Part of this enormous shift [to snacking] has to do with a more positive view of in-between meal eating, an adaptation to lifestyles in which daily meal-crafting is often impractical. It is also an extension of our American obsession with self-improvement. If being hungry lowers productivity and enjoyment of life, then hunger must be banished. And, the only way to get through the day without feeling hungry is to snack.

The food industry itself rushed to meet this emerging cultural need to banish hunger from our everyday lives and has supported the virtual ubiquity of snackable foods in modern America… Some of the most interesting incremental growth opportunities lie in the snacking margins of our everyday food culture.”

The Hartman Group, read more here

Business bites… Embrace irreplaceable people

Image“Andrew Carnegie [builder of the American steel industry] apparently said, ‘Take away my people, but leave my factories and soon grass will grow on the  factory floors…Take away my factories, but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory.’ Is there a typical large corporation working today that still believes this?
Most organizations now have it backwards. The factory, the infrastructure, the systems, the patents, the  process, the manual… that’s king. In fact, shareholders demand it. It turns out that success is coming from the atypical organizations, the ones that can get back to embracing irreplaceable people, the linchpins, the ones that make a difference. Anything else can be replicated  cheaper by someone else.”
Seth Godin, US marketing linchpin, writing in his daily blog, and a daily source of provocative inspiration

Food bites… Marketing healthier formulations: the stealthy approach

Image“As manufacturers respond to these calls [to take greater responsibility for creating healthier offerings], the question then turns to how such efforts should be communicated. Unilever, for instance, has made significant strides in cutting out salt and trans fat from its products; however, its efforts have been accompanied by very little fanfare.

“The strategy is an astute one, given the perceived lack of flavour of low-salt products, and inherent scepticism of corporations’ product claims. It is not always necessary to promote reformulation efforts with extensive marketing and publicity, as consumers are already interested in nutrition information and will almost certainly discover the changes themselves. Today, a stealthy approach may indeed be one of the most effective ways to communicate health.”

Katrina Diamonon, Datamonitor Consumer Markets Analyst

Food bites… A food-fight most foul!

Image“Yet the big loser here [referring to Premier’s massive bread cartel fine] is the reputation of South Africa business generally. Here are some ground rules for “better business” practice.
    * First, when you decide to screw your customers, concentrate on not screwing poor people.
    * Second, if you are in the food industry, try to avoid screwing your customers when it comes to staple products.
    * And third, when you are caught, don’t whine about it.
Should be pretty obvious, but clearly it is not.”
Tim Cohen, writing in The Daily Maverick (an edgy look at SA and global news daily) 

 Food bites… Put packaging on equal footing with product development!

Image“Why do some products succeed and others fail? The reason well may not be a poor product but rather a lack of synergy between the product and its packaging. That often is the case with products from independent, upstart companies. Typically, the creative mind behind the product is a whiz at product development, but has little or no experience in marketing. Not surprisingly, the packaging for their new product is treated as an afterthought and therefore fails to deliver an appropriate value proposition to their target audience.”
Jim George, Marketing & Design Editor,

Food bites… The insane GM/science debate!

Image“Personally, I’d feel a lot happier about the evidence in favour of genetically-modified crops if that evidence wasn’t wholly owned and selectively released by corporations whose legal obligation is to maximise profit above all other considerations, and who are not legally obliged to release any contrary data under the protection of ‘commercial sensitivity’. By the way, where IS all the necessary fertiliser going to come from once the accessible oil runs out?
From the cantankerous Marc Roberts: do see this wonderful cartoon in full here

Food bites… Rethinking the way we produce food

Image“The industrial food system we have ended up with is not inevitable, as its creators would have us assume; nor is it necessarily sustainable. Taxpayers fund the subsidies that allow food to be produced and sold at deceptively low cost, then pay to alleviate the health problems it engenders.”
Tim Walker, The Independent

Food bites… Redefining “healthy foods”

Image“Consumers have been talking about eating “real” and “fresh food for some time now, too. There is a growing interest in seeking generalised health and well-being through whole, natural food sources rather than “healthy foods”. Consumers are also interested in foods that combine indulgence along with health and wellness benefits to achieve a higher quality of life. Consumers are redefining quality in food away from science-based healthy foods toward a broader view of quality. At the end of the day, consumers don’t eat nutrients or ingredients, they eat food.”
The Hartman Group

Food bites… More food science required

Image“Food producers and processors in industrialized and developing nations alike require science and technology to ensure a sustainable supply of safe, nutritious, and affordable food and satisfy a rapidly growing demand. Agriculture, regardless if it is traditional or modern, sustainable or organic, will need more science, not less. And people’s food, be it fast or slow, local or global, whole, natural, fresh or processed, industrial or not, will require more food science and technology, not less.”
John Floros, PhD, Professor & Head, Department of Food Science, Penn State University

Food bites . . . Do supplements really do any good?

Image“If vitamins are useful for anything, it’s probably for tapping into our old friend the placebo effect. In a 2008 survey, 38% of doctors confessed to recommending vitamins because they believed the pills could promote health purely through the power of positive expectations. Consider a famous 1975 study designed to probe whether vitamin C supplements alleviated colds better than a placebo, an inert lactose tablet. It turned out that it didn’t matter much which pill the subjects were actually taking. What mattered was what they thought they were getting: Those who believed they were taking vitamin C had fewer and milder cases of the sniffles than those who believed they were just swallowing lactose. That would be reason enough to pop a supplement—there are worse things than deceiving yourself into better health—if it weren’t for the emerging evidence that the pills might be capable of causing real harm.”
Emily Anthes, writing on

Food bites . . . The salt saga

Image“The question … is whether the beneficial hypotensive effects of sodium restriction will outweigh its hazards. Unfortunately, few data link sodium intake to health outcomes, and that which is available is inconsistent. Without knowledge of the sum of the multiple effects of a reduced sodium diet, no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.”
Michael Alderman, editor of the American Journal of Hypertension

Food bites . . . The unnatural truth about natural foods

Image“… natural, all natural and 100% natural are widely used terms that don’t mean much, but look good on packaging. It’s so complicated that the FDA has refused to define natural foods – citing other priorities. If our governing agencies cannot agree on what natural is, what are consumers to do? I have come to the conclusion that many foods packaged in a box, air-filled bag, or frozen food container are not natural – no matter what the label says.”
Keely Gideon-Taylor, bloggist with