Paragon Press – May 2013


How companies are hooking you on foods and other sneaky things they do to sell them

“Words–so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!”
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Millions of dollars are spent on marketing research about how to sell products, using little to say more. Every word, every image is chosen very carefully to convey exactly what the company desires. Many people in advertising take courses in psychology. Business degree programs offer studies in consumer behavior. They want to know how to get inside your head, sometimes without you realizing it. They are appealing to basic psychological impulses.

Here are a few of the phrases most commonly used:

  • LIMITED TIME-creating a sense of urgency to purchase
  • BY INVITATION ONLY-making the product sound exclusive
  • FREE-creates the a positive feeling, but keep in mind, the seller still has to make money
  • NEW AND IMPROVED-something nobody else has done before now. Our nation loves innovation.
  • MONEY BACK GUARANTEE-studies show people rarely return items, but this promise is reassuring.
  • DOCTOR RECOMMENDED-using an educated, trustworthy figure

Another claim to be wary of is “organic.” People tend to react to this word illogically, thinking it has fewer calories and better nutrition. “Organic” refers to the methods used to produce the foods, not the characteristics of the food.

Recently, General Mills wanted to introduce two new snack bars. They chose the same word to advertise both of them: protein. It’s the new buzz word for many kinds of foods. It’s selling drinks, supplements, bars, and cereals. Marketing has helped you believe protein will help you be healthier, your kid to perform better at sports, or your husband to lose weight.

DID YOU KNOW? – An average adult needs about 50 grams of protein in a day, and about 30 grams of fiber a day.

Do we need all this protein? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the average American actually eats more protein than needed, which can result in excessive caloric intake.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends the average adult should get 10%-35% of daily calories from protein. Take a look at your diet to see if you actually need that protein bar. You might be spending more on a high protein snack or breakfast food that provides no additional nutritional benefits than what you would normally eat.

Much of the protein being added is from processed soybeans that have had the carbohydrates and fat removed. While this becomes an inexpensive way to add protein, the taste can be chalky. Companies have added other textures to avoid this issue, such as nuts and dried fruit, to produce a chewier texture.

GIVE ME PROTEIN AND FIBER! – When we eat food that promises to be a good source of things we need, such as whole grains or protein, we feel better about ourselves, like we’ve made a smart, intelligent choice that will benefit our bodies. According to the senior vice president of food marketing and innovation for Kellogg’s, over half of consumers are looking for more protein and fiber for breakfast, rather than “low-fat” or “no cholesterol” choices. A food must contain at least 5 grams of protein per serving to be considered a “good source.” For reference, one cup of milk has 8 grams of protein and a 3-oz piece of meat has about 21 grams of protein. A food that claims to be high in fiber must have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. For reference, a slice of whole wheat bread typically has 1.9 grams of fiber, and 1 cup of cooked green peas has 8 grams of fiber.

What does PROTEIN mean to you? – Packaged food companies have these interpretations of its meanings. These assumptions help them sell their products. Be careful of how they might be targeting you and your family.

The following articles were referenced for this newsletter:
Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, March 27, 2013, “When the Box Says ‘Protein,’ Shoppers Say ‘I’ll Take It’