Category Archives: food marketing

Almost half of all energy drink ads featured on TV channels popular with teens

energy-drink-can-and-lightningFoodFacts.com reports often on energy drinks. We find these beverages especially concerning because of the countless instances where energy drinks have been linked to hospitalization and death. We’re particularly disturbed by the popularity of the drinks among the teenage population. We’ve heard claims from manufacturers time after time stating that their products aren’t meant for teenagers and that they do not target kids with their marketing campaigns. Hmmmm ….

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior has reported that 46% of energy drink advertisements broadcast on television are aired on channels featuring content and themes likely to appeal to teenagers.

Researchers from Dartmouth College, NH, arrived at their findings after examining a database of television advertisements broadcast from March 2012 to February 2013. During this period, across 139 network and cable channels, over 608 hours of energy drinks advertisements were aired.

“Although our results do not support the idea that manufacturers intentionally target adolescents with their advertising, ads for energy drinks were primarily aired on channels with themes likely to appeal to adolescents, and adolescents are likely exposed to energy drink advertising via television,” says lead researcher Jennifer A. Emond.

Energy drinks are beverages containing caffeine and commonly a mixture of other stimulants and energy-giving ingredients. Caffeine content can vary, with concentrations in popular brands ranging from 70 mg per 8 oz serving to 200 mg per 16 oz serving. These amounts are far higher than the average caffeine content of popular soft drinks, which range from 23 to 69 mg per 12 oz.

While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) generally recognize energy drinks as safe, some experts are concerned about the potential health risks that adolescents can face due to high caffeine intake. Certain adverse health effects are associated with consuming too much caffeine, such as anxiety, sleep disruption and serious cardiovascular events.

At present, the American Academy of Pediatrics advise against energy drink consumption among adolescents, and the American Medical Association registered their support for a ban on the marketing of energy drinks to adolescents alongside the US Senate Commerce Committee in 2013.

Television is highly-watched by adolescents in the US, and the authors of the study describe it as a highly relevant medium for advertising to reach the youth of the nation. Until now, however, little quantitative research has been carried out to investigate the prevalence of energy drink promotion on US television.

The primary target audience of each of the television channels was identified through analyzing audience demographic data from a cable advertising trade group. The researchers identified the 10 television channels that dedicated the most time to energy drink advertising and of these, six included adolescents in their primary target audience.

The six channels were MTV2, ESPN News, FUSE, MTV, ESPN-2 and Black Entertainment Television. MTV2 was identified as the top network and was found by the researchers to have aired 2,959 minutes of energy drink advertisements – around 8.1% of all airtime given to energy drink advertisements.

The proportion of MTV’2 base audience made up of 12-17-year-olds was also found to be 398% greater than that of the average network audience for US television.

“While policies related to energy drink marketing are debated, nutrition educators may wish to include elements of media literacy when advising adolescents and their families about the risks of energy drink consumption,” the authors suggest.

Although it cannot be proven that adolescents specifically viewed these advertisements, Nielsen data have previously indicated that adolescents view more energy drink advertisements than adults on many of the 10 channels identified in this study, including the top network MTV2.

While it can be argued that energy drink advertising appears so frequently on the channels mentioned because the products fit best with sports and risk-taking – popular themes on these channels – previous studies have suggested that energy drinks manufacturers specifically target an adolescent market by associating their products with these themes.

One step the authors suggest that parents can take to help reduce their children’s exposure to energy drink marketing is to try and limit the amount of time they spend watching television.

“Measures of increased television exposure among adolescents (television viewing time, number of televisions in the home, and the presence of a television in the bedroom) have been associated with heavier consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks,” state the authors.

In October last year, researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed that increasing consumption of energy drinks could pose a threat to public health.

FoodFacts.com has some experience with the world of advertising and we’re pretty sure that TV stations that cater to teens are getting more energy drink advertising specifically BECAUSE they’re catering to teens. Demographics are the biggest factor in selecting TV stations for advertisers. The “Popular Themes” on MTV2 of sports and “risk-taking” are in themselves aimed at teens.

Energy drink manufacturers market to teenagers. They do it purposefully. If the teenaged consumer wasn’t important to energy drink sales, their commercials wouldn’t be airing on stations with a predominantly teen demographic.
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290452.php

Branding broccoli, courtesy of Michelle Obama

gettyimages_87992859We can probably all agree that marketing junk foods to kids a an awful idea. But we can also agree that marketing foods to kids works. FoodFacts.com wonders if, instead of throwing out the baby with the bath water, we shouldn’t just change the baby? Michelle Obama has a jump on that one.

Five years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move campaign, which sought to reduce childhood obesity and get kids eating healthier. She’s taken aim at school lunches and encouraged more activity and water consumption. Now she wants more pushback on unhealthy-food advertisements aimed at kids — and celebrities are on board to help.

“If folks are going to pour money into marketing unhealthy foods,” she said at an event Thursday in Washington, “then let’s fight back with ads for healthy foods, right? Let’s do this.”

Obama spoke at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit, where the organization announced the launch of FNV, a marketing campaign laser-focused on branding fruits and vegetables (hence the name “FNV”) as cool to youth. The Partnership for a Healthier America, known as PHA, was created in conjunction with the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign in 2010, though the organization is independent from the White House.

A PHA statement details how the campaign will feature appearances from actresses Kristen Bell and Jessica Alba, athletes Stephen Curry and Cam Newton and more.

“FNV was inspired by big consumer brands, whose tactics are relentless, compelling, catchy and drive an emotional connection with their products,” said PHA CEO Lawrence A. Soler in a statement. “We want to do the same thing for fruits and veggies, which have never had an opportunity to act like a big brand. Until now.”

Maybe broccoli needs a jingle. Carrots could have a viral video. Left in the hands of professionals who work on transforming the images of big brands in our country, it really is possible that this could have a far-reaching effect on our kids. Let’s move fruits and vegetables into the same category of cool as bad food. Whether or not we like admitting it, advertising and marketing start trends, define products and influence consumers. Maybe we should start using it for things that really matter.

http://time.com/3725306/michelle-obama-unhealthy-food-ads-fnv/

General Mills settles suit over 100% Natural claims on Nature Valley Granola Bars

Earns General MillsHere at FoodFacts.com we often talk about the “halo effect” surrounding certain food products. Language used on certain food products is often designed to impart a certain image. The brand name Nature Valley, for instance, ascribes a wholesome stature to products bearing the name. And often you’ll find 100% natural claims on Nature Valley products.

The non-profit Center for Science in the Public acts as a sort of truth squad for food claims, outing many “good for you” labels and ads for the shameless distortions that they are.

Now, the center reports the settlement of a suit it brought against General Mills for calling Nature Valley granola bars and other products “100% Natural” even though they contained highly processed sweeteners. (Wait, you mean “high-fructose corn syrup” doesn’t just count as corn?) From it’s press release:

WASHINGTON—A settlement agreement announced today prevents General Mills from claiming that its Nature Valley granola bars, crispy squares, and trail mix bars are “100% Natural” if those products contain high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or several other artificially produced ingredients. The agreement, which is effective immediately and applies to labeling and marketing for 30 Nature Valley products, settles a 2012 lawsuit brought on behalf of consumers by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and two law firms.
CSPI privately raised its concern with General Mills over its “100% Natural” claims as early as 2005. The company began phasing out its use of high-fructose corn syrup in some products, but at the time of CSPI’s lawsuit was still using high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin. While those ingredients are derived from corn, they are produced by treating corn starch with acids, enzymes, or both before being refined into a substance that does not occur in nature.

The center notes that a bill introduced in Congress in 2013 “would prohibit the use of the word ‘natural’ on a food that includes any synthesized ingredient, or any ingredient that has undergone chemical changes such as corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, maltodextrin, chemically modified food starch, or alkalized cocoa.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that some Nature Valley packaging had apparently already been changed. It says a “spokeswoman for General Mills said the changes were made in 2012 and preceded the lawsuits, which she said the company fought because the suits sought damages. She said General Mills agreed to the settlement to avoid further litigation, and has no plans to change its current labels.”

The Journal also reports that lawsuits over “natural” labeling have been proliferating of late, with more than 100 filed in recent years.

Consumers have targeted PepsiCo Inc., Campbell Soup Co. , Ben & Jerry’s, Kashi, Skinnygirl and dozens of other food and drink brands.

Several companies have quietly removed “natural” claims from the juice, ice cream, potato chips and other foods they make. Campbell eliminated the claim from Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers and Pepsi got rid of the phrasing on its Naked juice bottle.

A commenter on The Wall Street Journal story writes:

The sad truth is that if you are buying something in a wrapper, box, can or any sealed container, it almost certainly is adulterated with either sugar, hydrogenated oil, preservatives, or all of these, not to mention excess salt, and “additives.”

Go to your friendly neighborhood chain food market and take a magnifying glass. Read the labels on “breakfast cereal”. Of the fifty brands there, chances are that all fifty contain added sugar/corn syrup, or concentrated fruit juice for sweetening. Do the same with “juices” and discover there MAY be ONE or TWO actual juices there, everything else is adulterated and soaked in corn syrup. Basically if it’s in a container, it’s semi junk or junk food.

None of this comes as a surprise to the FoodFacts.com community. And while it is true that many manufacturers have removed natural claims from their labels, well … let’s just say it remains a good idea to read ingredient lists consistently. Remember, every manufacture can change ingredients without notification. A while back, Hunt’s promoted the removal of high-fructose corn syrup from its ketchup. Shortly thereafter, it reverted to using high-fructose corn syrup because they claimed consumers preferred the original recipe. They do still have a version of their ketchup without HFCS. But the whole chain of events occurred very quietly.

Be a consistent label reader who isn’t influence by packaging claims and you’ll naturally avoid unnatural ingredients!

http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2014/11/nature-valley-granola-bars-suit

Because breakfast wasn’t bad enough … introducing the Jimmy Dean for lunch

Jimmy-Dean-Macaroni-and-CheeseWe get it. Brands need to keep growing. They need to break into new markets. Develop increased market share. Find new customers. FoodFacts.com understands this applies to every brand … not simply the ones that offer consumers healthier options. But we have to confess that seeing Jimmy Dean branch outside of the breakfast food arena might have been a bit too much for us.

Jimmy Dean isn’t our idea of a healthy brand. The ingredient lists for the majority of their breakfast sandwiches are far too long and far from healthy. Needless to say we really couldn’t get excited about their new lunch options.

We decided to look a little further and picked the Smoked Bacon Mac and Cheese Bowl as our subject. There are plenty of other options but we went with this one because honestly it’s one of the better offerings in the new lunch line.

First let’s look at the nutrition facts:

Calories:                         440
Fat:                                 15 grams
Saturated Fat:                8 grams
Cholesterol:                   45 mg
Sodium:                         1020 mg

O.k., it isn’t a burger — but that doesn’t make it good. And we’re really not happy about the sodium level in this lunch option. Let’s make a loose comparison. You can have a cup of Betty Crocker Cheese Pizza Macaroni and Cheese (about 236 grams as opposed to the 255 gram serving size for the Smoked Bacon Macaroni and Cheese Bowl) for 80 less calories, 13 less grams of fat, no saturated fat at all, and 530 mg less sodium. We should point out that there’s no bacon in that one. But there’s still a big difference between the fat and sodium content of the two products.

The ingredient list follows:

Ingredients: Elbow Macaroni (Water, Durum Wheat Semolina, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid), White Three Cheese Sauce (Water, Skim Milk, Cheddar/Parmesan, Mozzarella Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Cream, Corn Starch, Whey, Natural Flavors, Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Xanthan Gum, Spice and Yeast Extract), Shredded Cheddar Cheese (Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto Color), Bacon (Cured with Water, Salt, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Smoke Flavoring)

Like we said, this is one of the better Jimmy Dean lunch products. We’re still not thrilled with the list and believe that it could be a lot better.

But if you’ve ever taken a good look at the ingredient lists for the Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, the Smoked Bacon Mac and Cheese Lunch Bowl is actually an improvement, albeit a slight one.

The next time we’re craving macaroni and cheese, we’re making it from scratch with our own choice of ingredients. Yes, it’s certainly an indulgence, but FoodFacts.com is much more comfortable with an occassional indulgence with better ingredients than we are with Jimmy Dean for lunch!

http://www.jimmydean.com/products/bowls/smoked-bacon-mac-cheese-bowl#nutritional_info

Lawsuit against Chobani claims it’s not really Greek yogurt and is misleading consumers about nutrition

Chobani_AP2Lawsuits against food manufacturers have been in the news constantly over the last few years. Manufacturers have removed “All Natural” claims from their labels more than a few times because of disgruntled consumers discovering that those claims really weren’t the truth. FoodFacts.com has always felt that the voices of consumers do eventually motivate postive changes in the food industry. And those lawsuits certainly have been motivational for many manufacturers. The latest lawsuit we’ve been reading about is something we want to call to your attention because it may stir up some different feelings.

According to the New York Post, Barry Stoltz and Allan Chang are suing Chobani, alleging that the companies falsely represent their product by hiding the amount of sugar in their yogurt and by calling it “Greek.” Chobani Greek Yogurt is about as nutritious as eating a fudge ice cream bar,the lawsuit claims.

The 48-page suit, which accuses the best-selling brand of deceiving consumers about its health benefits, sounds more like a Jerry Seinfeld routine.

But its irony is unintentional.

“There is nothing ‘Greek’ about the products,” the complaint says. “None of the products sold in the U.S. are made in Greece or made by Greek nationals.”

“The name of the brand itself is not Greek,” noting that it is derived from the Turkish word “chobani,” which means shepherd, and the company’s founder is Turkish.

The suit contends Chobani products contain about 16 grams of sugar, virtually the same sweetness as a Nestlé Fudge ice cream bar.

Chobani allegedly creates further confusion for consumers by prominently displaying a “0%” on the label “without providing any context as to what the 0% represents,” the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs — Barry Stoltz of Scarsdale and Allan Chang of Queens — filed the class-action suit in Brooklyn Federal Court and are seeking unspecified monetary damages for apparently being tricked into thinking that 0%, which actually means it’s nonfat, refers to zero calories or sugar.

“With deceptive packaging and marketing, consumers are deceived into thinking that junk food can be a healthy alternative,” said lawyer C.K. Lee of Manhattan, who filed the suit.

Chobani, based in upstate Norwich, said a similar lawsuit had been tossed in California. The company said it is “committed to using only natural ingredients.”

It also schooled Stoltz and Chang on where Chobani is made.

“Much like English muffins and French fries, our fans understand Greek yogurt to be a product description about how we authentically make our yogurt and not about where we make our yogurt in upstate New York and Idaho,” the company said in a statement.

FoodFacts.com was thrilled to see Subway move to eliminate azodicarbonamide from its breads and rolls because consumers made their voices heard. We were equally happy about Gatorade removing brominated vegetable oil from their products that previously contained the controversial ingredient. We applauded Kashi removing the “all natural” claims from their products because of a lawsuit. It is certainly true that consumers would feel misled by claims that are obviously untrue.

Have to admit though, that none of us here at FoodFacts.com ever considered the possibility that ANY of the mainstream brands of Greek yogurt are actually manufactured in Greece by Greek nationals — unless of course we’re talking about imported products, which we’re not. We’re pretty positive that the overwhelming majority of consumers understand that what we’re talking about are products manufactured in the Greek style of yogurt preparation.

As far as the sugar content is concerned, we have to be honest here, 16 grams (while certainly higher than we’d like) is actually right in the ballpark for most mainstream brands. If you’ve been reading nutrition labels for yogurts, you probably know this already.

We’ve posted about this lawsuit for your consideration. Is this a reasonable claim?

FoodFacts.com would really like for consumers to use careful consideration before filing any lawsuit against food manufacturers. Please don’t get us wrong, legal claims are a great tool to change what is actually wrong with how food manufacturers market products. We just want to make sure they’re used to do just that. We’re really not so sure this particular lawsuit fits that bill. What do you think?

http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2014/06/24/greek-yogurt-giants-chobani-and-fage-facing-lawsuits-over-sugar-and-greekness/
http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/chobani-yogurt-greek-deceives-customers-lawsuit-article-1.1836844

Misleading healthy eating concepts food marketers love and nutrition experts don’t

ExpertsWe know that food manufacturers routinely use language to convey health benefits of products that may or may not actually be there. We’ve covered plenty of information about food marketing that hopefully helps us all be more aware of some of the words manufacturers are using to create healthier images for their products. But it goes beyond words … marketers exploit healthy eating concepts every day, shaping our opinions and our purchases.

A recent Huffington Post article gives new perspective into what nutrition experts are especially sensitive to on food labels — and want all of us to be sensitive to as well. FoodFacts.com thinks their insights are well worth sharing.

“There is so much nutrition misinformation out there,” says Appetite for Health’s Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, “and add on the fact that marketers often use ‘health halo’ descriptors to sell products, it’s no wonder Americans are confused about what’s really healthy to eat.”
To help clear up some of the confusion, a group of nutrition experts were asked to dish on the healthy eating concepts we’re most commonly misusing. Here are eight of the worst offenders.

“Detox”

“If I could erase one word from the dietary dictionary it would be ‘detox’. The idea that certain foods or nutrients will speed up or enhance your body’s detoxification process is just silly. The best way to help your body get the toxins out is to put fewer in.”

–Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, CNS, HuffPost blogger and author of Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for A Healthy Diet

“Good” Foods And “Bad” Foods

“I don’t like saying there are good foods and bad foods — it’s so judgmental! I’m not saying French fries aren’t loaded with calories, fat and sodium, or ice cream isn’t rich in calories, fat and sugar, but saying they’re ‘bad’ foods invokes guilt on those who enjoy these comfort foods. Eating and enjoying food — even foods that aren’t the most nutritious — shouldn’t ever be done with guilt or shame. Eating should be one of the great pleasures of life! And if you learn to eat with pleasure, you may even feel more satisfied with less food.”

–Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week

“Clean”

“Everything is all about ‘clean’ foods, a ‘clean’ diet, but there is absolutely no definition of what ‘clean eating’ means. Many athletes refer to ‘clean’ as eating natural, wholesome, real foods and fewer processed options. I think that makes sense, but I don’t know why we need to call it ‘clean’ instead of healthy eating. I’m starting to see marketers say their processed products are made with “clean” ingredients, so to me this is just a meaningless term. I think, ‘You’ve been had!’ when I hear friends use the term.”

–Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, Appetite for Health

“I shy away from the term ‘clean eating’. I appreciate that people use the term to describe eating plans that include high-quality, unprocessed foods and perhaps organic and locally-grown foods, and I applaud their efforts to eat nutritious foods. But I have a hard time with the clean-eating label because it makes me think that if you’re not eating ‘clean’ then you’re eating ‘dirty.’ Also, clean eating doesn’t necessarily equal a balanced diet. As much as I’ve tried to embrace the clean eating term, I sense some shame in it. For example, people may feel bad that they can’t ‘eat clean,’ because the cost is prohibitive or it’s inconvenient. And I sometimes get the idea that die-hard clean eaters look down on people who don’t eat the same way, and that they use the term to define themselves rather than their eating. I’d love it if we could ditch the eating labels and try to eat the fewest processed foods possible as part of a balanced diet we can afford and live with in the long-run.”

–Elizabeth M. Ward, RD, author of MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better

“Low-Carb”

“The one that gets to me the most is when people tell me they eat ‘low-carb’, or [say] ‘I don’t eat sugar.’ I always ask, ‘What does that mean for you?’ I constantly find myself explaining that carbs are in multiple food groups. There are grams of carbohydrates (a.k.a. sugar) in bread and bread products and fruits, but also in other foods that you may not think of as having grams of carbs, like unsweetened yogurt and vegetables. Once I explain the basics of food science, the ‘low-carb’ proclamation that so many claim to adhere to is not accurate.”

–Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and author of Belly Fat Fix

“Gluten-Free”

“Many people who tout the wonders of going without gluten don’t even know what gluten is — and there is little evidence that those who do not have celiac disease (only a small percentage of the population) [or non-celiac gluten sensitivity] will benefit from a gluten-free diet.”

–Katherine Brooking MS, RD, Appetite for Health

“Fruit Has Too Much Sugar”

“While fruit does indeed contain natural sugar, it comes along with great nutrition, such as vitamin C and fiber. One of my favorite fruits is grapes. They are [around 100] calories for a cup and are loaded with antioxidants and vitamin K. It’s natural to enjoy sweet foods — so getting a natural sugar fix from fruit rather than candy is smart. Aim for two cups or two pieces of fruit per day.”

–Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, CSSD, LDN, HuffPost blogger and author of The Flexitarian Diet

“Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day”

“NOT! All meals are important for different reasons. Each one plays a role in keeping you energized and at the top of your game.”

–Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, health and nutrition expert for the “Today” show and founder of Nourish Snacks

“Made With Simple Ingredients”

“This is popular with brands that say things like ‘made with ingredients you can see and pronounce.’ We all know what simple means, but ‘simple’ is now a marketing buzzword showing up on supermarket shelves. The ‘simple’ foods have a more wholesome look and may make you believe that you’re buying something that’s better for you and your family.

I’m all for foods with a single ingredient, like apples, bananas, broccoli, nuts, eggs, lean meats and fish, to name a few. They’re all as simple as foods can come and are loaded with nutrition and provide major health benefits. We’d all be healthier and live longer if we ate single-ingredient foods most of the time.

The new ‘simple’ foods I’m talking about are things like gourmet ice cream, cookies, candy, butter and other foods that may contain just a few ingredients. The problem is, those simple, all-natural ingredients don’t provide a nutritional punch. I’m talking about sugar, cream, salt and oil. There is no shortfall of these ‘simple’ ingredients in the typical American diet, so positioning them as a health bonus is just, well, bogus.”

Thanks for the great information, Huffington Post. And for the reminder that there are plenty of food trends that don’t begin with solid information from experts, but instead are the results of ideas that manufacturers want out there in the population at large. We’ve been hearing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for decades. That may very well have come from a cereal manufacturer and it went viral before social media ever existed. Along with words and phrases like “all natural” and “whole grain,” let’s keep concepts like those noted here as well. We’ll all be happier and healthier eaters!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/23/nutrition-misunderstood_n_5508695.html

Just because it says it’s healthy, doesn’t mean it is .

iStock_000003492931SmallPretty simple concept, isn’t it? Or at least it should be. But food marketers are well aware that minds can be swayed in a particular direction with the use of some very simple language.

Health-related buzzwords, such as “antioxidant,” “gluten-free” and “whole grain,” lull consumers into thinking packaged food products labeled with those words are healthier than they actually are, according to a new research study conducted by scholars at the University of Houston (UH).

That “false sense of health,” as well as a failure to understand the information presented in nutrition facts panels on packaged food, may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in the United States, said Temple Northup, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at UH.

“Saying Cherry 7-Up contains antioxidants is misleading. Food marketers are exploiting consumer desires to be healthy by marketing products as nutritious when, in fact, they’re not,” said Northup, principal investigator of the study, “Truth, Lies, and Packaging: How Food Marketing Creates a False Sense of Health.”

The study examined the degree to which consumers link marketing terms on food packaging with good health. It found that consumers tend to view food products labeled with health-related euphemisms as healthier than those without them. The research also showed that the nutrition facts panels printed on food packaging as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do little to counteract that buzzword marketing.

“Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit,” Northup said. “When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up — it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”

The study also looks at the “priming” psychology behind the words to explain why certain words prompt consumers to assign a health benefit to a food product with unhealthy ingredients.

“For example, if I gave you the word ‘doctor,’ not only ‘doctor’ would be accessible in your mind — now all these other things would be accessible in your mind — ‘nurse,’ ‘stethoscope,’ etc.,” Northup said. “What happens when these words become accessible, they tend to influence or bias your frame of mind and how you evaluate something.”

This triggered concept is then available to influence later thoughts and behaviors, often without explicit awareness of this influence — the so-called priming effect, Northup said.

Northup developed an experiment using priming theory to gather quantitative research on how food marketers influence consumers. He developed an online survey that randomly showed images of food products that either included actual marketing words, like organic, or a Photoshop image removing any traces of those words, thereby creating two different images of the same product. A total of 318 study participants took the survey to rate how “healthy” each product was.

The products with trigger words in their labels analyzed in the study were: Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks (Organic), Apple Sauce (Organic), Chef Boyardee Beefaroni (Whole Grain), Chef Boyardee Lasagna (Whole Grain), Chocolate Cheerios (Heart Healthy), Cherry 7-Up (Antioxidant), Smuckers Peanut Butter (All Natural) and Tostitos (All Natural).

Northup found when participants were shown the front of food packaging that included one of those trigger words, they would rate the items as healthier.

“I took a label from Cherry 7-Up Antioxidant and Photoshop it without the word ‘antioxidant’ and only the words, ‘Cherry 7-Up.’ I then asked people via the online survey which one they thought was healthier,” said Northup. “Each time a participant saw one of the triggering words on a label, they would identify it as healthier than the other image without the word. ”

After completing the product evaluations, the study participants then reviewed the nutrition facts panels on a variety of products. These labels would be presented two at a time so the participants could choose the healthier food or drink option.

“Food marketers say there are nutritional labels, so people can find out what’s healthy and what’s not,” he said. “Findings from this research study indicate people aren’t very good at reading nutritional labels even in situations where they are choosing between salmon and Spam. Approximately 20 percent picked Spam as the healthier option over salmon,” said Northup.

Northup hopes the results of this study will contribute to an increased dialogue on how food is marketed, guide development of specific media literacy and help people understand the effects of how food is marketed to consumers.

While we like to think of ourselves as sophisticated consumers (and just about everyone these days considers themselves as such), the proliferation of those small , yet powerful words on food labels everywhere — even where they don’t make sense — speaks directly to their actual influence. Antioxidant soda? Whole grain canned macaroni? Can those words actually manage to make an unhealthy product full of bad ingredients healthy? We know they can’t and yet, somehow, time after time, consumers are fooled. Armed with the insight as to why this manufacturers ploy continues to work, FoodFacts.com suggests we all think a little harder the next time we’re attracted to a product label bearing an extra descriptive word or two.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613130717.htm

McDonalds doesn’t want kids to see Ronald McDonald eating a Big Mac

RonFood marketing to kids is a very controversial subject. There have been many different studies done that do show that all the characters and computer games and TV commercials influence kids to beg their parents for foods we’d probably rather they not eat. And there have been many “agreements” between food companies that have them pledging to change their marketing strategies when it comes to bad food and kids. Most of those pledges aren’t technically broken, as food companies find different ways to get their messages across to the youngest among us. Fast food companies make attempts at making their children’s meals healthier, but somehow or another those fries seem to sneak back into that Happy Meal. Are the food companies intentionally sidestepping responsibility? And what about that Happy Meal anyway?

When Ronald McDonald was first introduced to America in the 1960s, he wore a magic belt that dispensed an endless supply of hamburgers.

But today, according to both food advocates and McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, America’s most recognizable clown won’t go near a Big Mac.

“You don’t see Ronald McDonald in schools. You don’t see him eating food,” Thompson said Thursday at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, according to multiple reports.

This, health activists say, is so McDonald’s can deflect criticism that it willfully markets the unhealthy food to children.

“They think that by not having him consume the food, it’s not encouraging kids to patronize the brand,” said Jesse Bragg of Corporate Accountability International, a food advocacy group that has been pushing for Ronald’s retirement for years.

In the past, said Bragg, McDonald’s has been criticized for having Ronald visit schools to teach phys ed and appear in connection with charities that work on behalf of sick children.

The company has kept Ronald at arm’s length from its food for years now, nutrition advocates say.

“At least since they joined the Better Business Bureau program in 2006, they’ve been saying they wouldn’t use Ronald McDonald to sell food,” said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that says it helped persuade McDonald’s to join an inititative run by the BBB that sets nutrition standards for advertising food to children under 12.

And Ronald’s abstemious habits may go back much further than that. Geoffrey Giuliano, who portrayed Ronald in public appearances in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is today an outspoken critic of the company, once said in an interview that he “was never allowed to eat the food” while in character because it would have been “unseemly.”

In 2007, Jim Skinner, then CEO of McDonald’s, told Reuters that “Ronald McDonald has never sold food to kids in the history of his existence.”
When asked if it was official policy to keep Ronald McDonald away from the food he was created to promote, McDonald’s spokeswoman Becca Hary said only that “when Ronald McDonald appears in public, he is focused on spreading joy and smiles.” Hary declined to comment on how long this has been the case.

Marketing experts say it doesn’t really matter whether Ronald is ever actually seen eating in public: Kids will still associate him with Big Macs and Happy Meals.

“Kids are hardwired to think that he equals McDonald’s,” said branding strategist Adam Hanft, founder of the marketing firm Hanft Projects.
“There’s a test in marketing where they put people under a full magnetic resonance imaging machine, like a brain scan essentially, and they show people images, and different parts of the brain light up,” Hanft said. “If you showed kids Ronald McDonald, all the reward centers of the brain would go crazy like July 4th. Because he equals the hamburger.”

Ronald McDonald doesn’t sell food? His sole purpose is to spread joy and smiles? FoodFacts.com doesn’t remember Toucan Sam eating Froot Loops. Snap, Crackle and Pop never ate Rice Krispies. They still sold products. Ronald McDonald isn’t an ambassador of goodwill — he’s the mascot for McDonald’s hamburgers. That’s not a smiley face embroidered on his pocket — he wears the golden arches on his jumpsuit.

Come on McDonald’s, we may be gullible, but we are smart enough to understand why the big guy exists. And even if the kids don’t realize it, when they see him they ask their moms for a hamburger.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/28/ronald-mcdonald-is-never_n_5380825.html

Are Kashi and Bear Naked misleading consumers with “natural” claims?

In early December two class action lawsuits were certified by the United States District Court for the Southern District of California against two popular “natural” product companies — Kashi and Bear Naked Inc. The lawsuits claim that both companies have misled consumers with false claims of “100% Natural” or “Nothing Artificial” ingredient lists. The court has ruled that the plaintiffs have proven that some of the “natural” ingredient claims are not true and some of the ingredients used were synthetic.

FoodFacts.com is all too familiar with manufacturer claims of “natural” ingredients. There are many ways companies can make that claim legally, regardless of whether or not we would consider it true. Kashi and its subsidiary Bear Naked Inc. certainly wouldn’t be the first companies to assert that their claim of “natural” ingredients” is consistent with current federal law.

This lawsuit specifically states that Kashi and Bear Naked products were found to contain Alph-Tocopherol Acetate and Hexane-processed soy ingredients. Hexane is listed as a federal hazardous pollutant and was identified as a toxic contaminant by the California Assembly in 1993.

Kashi is a leader in the natural foods market and has successfully branded itself as a nutritional, environmentally conscious manufacturer. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit hope to show that Kashi is deceptive about its branding and misleads consumers to believe that their products do not contain artificial ingredients. They assert that as a result of their misleading labeling, Kashi has been able to sell products to hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide.

In addition, plaintiffs claim that Bear Naked labeled products containing potassium carbonate, glycerin and lecithin as “100% Natural”. These ingredients are all recognized synthetic chemicals under federal regulations.

Both companies deny that their labeling is misleading. Kashi and Bear Naked state that their claims are truthful and consistent with federal law. The trail will begin for both lawsuits on February 11, 2014.

It’s definitely worth noting that the use of the word “natural” by food manufacturers is in decline. That seems to be a direct result of lawsuits like these. FoodFacts.com believes that consumers are getting smarter about the branding practices of mainstream food manufacturers. But we also think that those same consumers can develop a strong relationship with companies like Kashi and Bear Naked because they aren’t necessarily viewed as mainstream manufacturers (even though they’re owned by Kellog’s). These aren’t the first lawsuits against these two companies. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the results. We’ll all be happier consumers when we can count on any manufacturer’s “natural” and “nothing artificial” claims.

http://www.examiner.com/article/court-certifies-lawsuit-against-kashi-bear-naked-for-false-natural-claims

The internet, food activism and food manufacturers

Internet influence on consumers is everywhere. Online information has changed so much about how we approach purchases of all kinds. We’re more educated, more aware and definitely more discerning about the products and services on which we choose to spend our money. And because of the internet, we can be a lot more vocal about our likes and dislikes – and our product requirements.

That fact is especially true when it comes to food purchases. American consumers are paying much closer attention to the foods and beverages they consume. And we’re letting manufacturers know loud and clear what we DON’T expect to find in our foods. Online petitions and popular blogs – as well as FoodFacts.com (our own website), are helping consumers learn more than they ever have before about the ingredients in the food products in our grocery stores. In addition to a much more detailed ingredient education, those resources are giving us all a bigger voice that is clearly being heard by food manufacturers.

Earlier this year, for example, PepsiCo Inc. said it would stop using brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade and find a another way to evenly distribute color in the sports drink. That action was based on an online petition started by a teenager from Mississippi.

Last year, Starbucks said it would stop using a red dye made of crushed bugs based on comments it received “through a variety of means,” including an online petition, and switch to a tomato-based extract.

Kraft Foods plans to replace artificial dyes with colors derived from natural spices in select varieties of its macaroni and cheese, a nod to the feedback it’s hearing from parents.

The internet has made consumers much more powerful in the eyes of food manufacturers. It’s helped our voices be heard and our demands be met. Online resources have certainly created a shift in how those manufacturers respond to their customers.

Ali Dibadj, a Bernstein analyst who covers the packaged food and beverage industry, says the changes reflect a shift from “democratization to activism” by consumers.

“It used to be that people would just decide not to buy the product. Now they’re actually agitating for change,” Dibadj said. “There’s a bullhorn – which is the Internet – so you can get a lot of people involved very quickly.”

There are no numbers tracking how many companies are reformulating products in response to consumer demand. But even if recipe changes aren’t in direct response to petitions or blogs, executives understand that ingredients can become a liability once they fall out of favor with the public.

High-fructose corn syrup, for example, has gained a negative image in recent years and has been blamed for fueling bad eating habits. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group, says the sweetener is no more harmful than ordinary sugar in large amounts. But Kroger Co. decided to remove it from store-brand cereals following surveys with consumers in 2011.

The supermarket chain isn’t alone. Over the past decade, the use of high-fructose corn syrup in packaged foods and drinks has fallen 18 percent to 6.1 million tons last year, according to market researcher Euromonitor International.

Not all companies are making changes, at least not right away. The same teenager who called for the removal of brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade, for instance, is now taking aim at Coca-Cola’s Powerade, which also contains the ingredient in select varieties. As of Tuesday, her newest petition had more than 57,000 supporters.

In a statement, Coca-Cola noted that all its ingredients comply with regulations. But the company also said it is “always looking for ways to evolve” its formulas.

Another petition that asks Mars Inc. to remove artificial colors from M&Ms had more than 141,000 signatures. In an emailed statement, the privately held company stressed the safety of its ingredients.

As the internet continues to evolve, it places more and more power into the hands of the consumer. No manufacturer likes bad press. And news travels very quickly through online channels. Food manufacturers are adapting to the idea that our opinions are more influential than ever and that our voices can be heard quickly by millions. That’s all good news for us, as we continue to express our nutritional and ingredient requirements to the food industry.

http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_289563/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=H9WkyLl7