How Food Manufacturers Battle for Your Dollars, but not Your Health

We’re a solid week into the New Year and *this* is the year you resolved to get down to a healthy weight.  How’s that working out for you so far?

Transitioning to eating healthier food sounds easy, but the truth of the matter is, it’s a battlefield out there.  The food industry works very hard to make food that’s PALATABLE to us, but PROFITABLE for them.  And  “palatable,” doesn’t equate to “healthy.”  We’re doomed if we don’t go to battle against this and row against the tide.  We have to teach ourselves to eat and live healthy.

Having worked in the marketing field for 15 years, I can tell you that the people trying to get your attention with food are smart, cunning, and sometimes even conniving to make you to buy their products.  Never before in history have we had so much technology blaring at us with so much psychology behind it.  Product placement, sizing, aroma, and color all play into marketing strategies – never mind the subliminal messaging you may not be aware of.  Your brain is registering every bit of it though.

Let’s take the cereal aisle as a good example.  Where are the children’s cereals located?  Think about where a child’s eyes are when they’re around 4 to 7 years of age, and also think about where the child’s seat is on the cart.  Have you noticed that the cart height is about that of a child of that same age?

Stand back and look next time you’re at the store if you don’t believe me.  You’ll notice the colors are way more vibrant almost straight down the center.

What about your cereal?  Assuming you’ve outgrown Trix or Fruity Pebbles (I haven’t, but that’s another post), you may be looking for Chex, Grape Nuts, Wheaties or Cheerios, or maybe one of the “healthy” cereal bars like Kashi or Nature Valley Granola bars.  Where are they located on the shelves? (here’s a hint – it’s higher than the kids’ cereal).  There are some big numbers bidding on that shelf space. Just like real estate, where the most important detail is location, location, location, it’s the same for product.  You want your food item to be front and center where it’ll stand out?  That’s gonna cost a premium price.  If you’ve ever read articles about the cost of Super Bowl commercials, you’ll understand my point.

Think about the chemistry in the food – ever heard of Krave cereal?  Why do you think it’s named Krave?  I knew a woman who said her child went absolutely nuts after eating that cereal.  No doubt there’s some excitotoxins in that ingredient  list.   The marketers’ jobs are to push product – whether it’s food or something else.

Back up just a minute though.  Even before we get to packaging and placement, the research and development departments of the major food companies are running test and trials over and over to make food more addictive and palatable than ever before, using chemical alterations and, in some cases, studying how those foods affect our brains by hooking someone up to some electrodes and watching their brain wave patterns!  Once they have that figured out, THEN you move to make that product more visually appealing.  That doesn’t always mean the packaging, which would be the job of the marketing department, but literally the look of the food.  Think of how what a beautiful red that apple is, or how perfect that candy looks with the little swirls of chocolate on top.

One of the best and most enlightening books I ever read was by Michael Moss, “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.”  Talk about an eye-opener – WOW!  The remark about electrodes and your brain – truth!

So rest assured, dear New Years’ Resolutioner, you’re a winner in this battle just by attempting to go against this barrage of psychological and visual bullets.  Every good battle has to have a battle plan.  Little victories win the war.   Go ahead, make your attempts, use those small steps (Only one soda a day! No more fast food!) to build your momentum and gradually keep adding to those healthier habits.  There’s no hurry; this isn’t a race.  Your battle is unique to you, and I know you can be victorious!

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