22 Oct 14 Why is Big Food bad?
Use the word “technology” in a discussion about cellphones, motor cars, manufacturing, education – every subject we can think of – and you get universal appreciation. Use the word in reference to food and beverages, and half the population will turn on you. This article argues of the need for the food industry to curtail ridiculous claims and engage consumers earlier and better. How else are we going to feed 9 billion people?”
IS there any other industry that does as phenomenal a job and gets so beat up for it?” asks Leslie Skarra, CEO of Merlin Development, a Plymouth, Minn, contract product development company.
How did we get to this point?
We see three possible explanations. One is that as our country, and most of the world, becomes more urbanized, people get further removed from the sources of their food. Most of the raw materials are grown in dirt or are parts of once-live animals. People forget that and are abhorred when they find naturally occurring contaminants in their food or that an animal had to be killed for their barbecue.
At the same time, consumers have taken for granted that their food supply is safe, abundant, accessible and cheap. Compromise one of those, even the “cheap” aspect, and shoppers will find a replacement product.
Finally, food companies have never been this big. Nestle and Cargill each have sales of more than $100-billion. PepsiCo and Unilever are close. There’s a lot less scrutiny of struggling upstarts than of $35-billion Tyson.
Do you recall two news events of the past month? Most people know this first one: On Sept 9, Apple unveiled the iPhone 6. Media from around the world covered the event; some companies even watched the live announcement. All this for a new cellphone? But who tuned in eight days later when the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation announced its original 16 food processor-members had removed 6.4 trillion calories – that’s trillion with a T – from their food products between 2007 and 2012?
There was a third September event just as groundbreaking. On Sept 23, the Clinton Global Initiative announced America’s three largest soda makers pledged to reduce calories contributed by their beverages by 20 percent over the next ten years.
Those last two announcements should have set off a celebration in Times Square. Instead, few people took notice.
The food and beverage industry does seem to get little credit, or even credence, for the things it does well. But the business is not without blame. From failing to speak up to saying, and sometimes doing, the wrong things, it’s been guilty of missteps. But who else is going to feed a world of 9 billion people expected in 2050?
“In the west, we’ve come to expect that the food we buy is safe to eat, but it wasn’t always the case,” reminds Johannes Baensch, Nestlé’s global head of research and development. “Still today, in some parts of the world, many people don’t enjoy the luxury of knowing that the food they buy has gone through rigorous controls and checks. So whether our food is extremely sophisticated or fairly rudimentary, the challenge is essentially same. It is not enough to grow and harvest raw materials. You need the expert know-how to turn them into safe, tasty, nutritious and convenient ingredients. Processed products may make our lives easier, but the skills and talent required to produce them are harder to come by than you might think.”
Before we get into the commendations and defenses, there are some criticisms that should stick……