Market View: What's Wrong With Our Food?

There's nothing wrong with our food, although marketers keep pointing out how theirs lack the negatives.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

All I see in today's food advertisements are the negatives. No hormones, no GMOs, no artificial sweeteners. How are we to respond to the “new food police,” when it looks like we're finding everything wrong with our food?

There is much to be proud of with our food supply. And there are at least two areas that we should be “tooting our horns” about to remind consumers.

We should remind consumers of the emotional side of food and a trend toward families trying to eat together more often. I believe we lost the emotional importance of food. For the past 20 years or so, food has been viewed more as a source of vitamins and calories; virtually an elixir for eternal life. Now the fringe social media crowd is focusing on “clean” food and the ilk. But food and meal preparation is as old as human existence.

Food and meal preparation is a way most societies show love, respect and nurturing to others, especially family members. Think of how we celebrate life’s great events such as marriages (usually with a meal), deaths (usually with a wake with lots of food -- and if you are Irish, lots of strong drink). Couples who are dating go out to dinner to get to know one another. Religious ceremonies, such as christenings, often involve meals. Proms often have meals. Many couples celebrate anniversaries with romantic meals together. Food and meals are very intimate aspects of life.

A second point we fail to continually remind consumers of is “taste.” Taste is the main reason most consumers choose our food. In the past 40 years that I have been doing surveys, the No. 1 desired attribute has always been taste. If it doesn’t taste good, consumers won’t buy it for long. Remember all the low-fat foods that tasted slightly better than the box? They are no longer around.

Yet today most marketing effort is spent telling people all the things we are taking out of our food, such as gluten, GMOs, antibiotics, etc. Not only do many people not really care, it makes our past of including these things appear sinister, leading consumers to ask, “Why did they put them in there in the first place?”

Not everyone is focusing on taking everything out of food. Blue Apron is focusing on the emotional/social side of cooking and eating together. Watch their ads: They are warm and family-focused, often with children helping to prepare the meal. They talk about fresh food and tasty food and not all the negative ingredients so many of us have focused on.

Olive Garden has used the family angle for years with its campaign “We are all family here.” And previously “When you’re here, you’re family.” In both cases, it celebrates the family meal occasion and eating as a nurturing occasion.

On the other side of the issue is Perdue Chicken. The main point of recent ads is to announce its chicken is antibiotic free. It is my opinion the company is making millions of consumers aware that antibiotics are an issue -- which they never really thought about before. I always trusted Perdue and would have trusted it to sell nutritious, safe chicken even without the antibiotic-free claim. I think most people would.

By the way, Perdue never really says its chicken tastes any better because it has no antibiotics. It doesn’t say it is better for you without antibiotics. If it doesn’t make it taste better nor make us healthier why is the company telling us there are no antibiotics in the chickens?

Now the emotional attribute and taste attribute may have been lost, as nutrition and clean food have dominated. But “the times they are a changing,” as Bob Dylan said.

Millennials are recognizing they may have gotten a “raw deal” when it came to family and family dinners. As they grew up, convenience and pre-cooked meals dominated their dinner tables. Now, they are beginning to say family is important. Yes, they still want convenience but there are ways of getting home cooked meals with convenient food.

Make no mistake, the new generation will not go back to the age of “old time” cooking, but they will begin an age of convenient involvement with meals and cooking their way. They will want to say (and feel) like they are making the meal for the family again. Convenience will still be important and maybe even No. 1, but giving the new consumers the opportunity to say I love you with food and meals will be important.

So stop talking about the lack of negatives in your food products. Let’s stop empowering the fringe social media population that looks for these negatives. Stop catering to the fringe that wants to follow all sorts of diets like cave man diets, low “anything” diets and the ilk by changing all of our products to comport with their desires.

We have been selling good food to millions of consumers for years. Let’s keep it up!

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