In-N-Out Burger

More Food, in More Places, for More Occasions to Eat

People are convinced – perhaps with good reason – that the food supply has changed to give us more obesity now than ever before. Is it the sugar? Or is it the the fat? Many people chalk it up to their belief in the addictive properties of junk food. But we suggest considering that the issue is more systematic than just the food itself. Food marketing today gives us more food, in more places, for more occasions to eat.

General Foods told us there’s always room for Jell-O. So let’s take a look at the classic four p’s of food marketing to understand how this might be true.

Product

A good marketer starts by developing products that meet a target customer’s needs. In food, taste comes first. Critics of the food industry would like to say that big food is deviously finding ways to make food addictive. But the truth is likely more mundane. Food makers are just doing their job to make food that we will enjoy eating – food that tastes good.

Other product characteristics – for example, health claims – can help. But they are secondary. First and foremost, successful food companies are good at developing products that taste good. You want products with less added sugar? The industry is busy figuring that one out. And you can bet that the resulting products will taste great.

Price

A few years ago, Roland Sturm and Ruopeng An explained that Americans now have the cheapest food available in history. This pricing gives the food industry a powerful lever to sell ever more quantities of food to a population with growing rates of obesity. Forget macronutrients. If the industry feeds us enough of even the healthiest foods, obesity will be the result.

Place

Great products at a great price need to be at a customer’s fingertips for purchase and consumption. This is what product distribution is all about. Systems for distributing food have evolved so that we will never go hungry. Starbucks is on every corner, it seems. McDonald’s and Dunkin, too. We have warehouse stores selling huge quantities, complimented by convenience and specialty stores to satisfy other needs. Amazon will bring it to your door. And so will Grubhub.

The list is endless. But the bottom line is that we have more food, more conveniently available than ever before.

Promotion

When most people think about marketing, promotion is what comes to mind. But the typical view is very narrow. We think of ads with clever cartoon characters enticing children to beg for junk food. The reality of product promotion is much bigger. Marketers have a vast array of tools at their disposal. Media is more diverse than ever. Product placement deals embed products into our culture. Electronic media creates opportunities for incredibly precise targeting.

This vast array of promotion and advertising tools is still growing.

Regulation or Engagement?

If you’re thinking that this is all a bit overwhelming, then perhaps you’ve gotten the point. Food marketers have excelled in their work to give us more food, in more places, for more occasions to eat than ever before. They are fuelling and satisfying an economic demand.

Simply regulating small details of marketing practices is unlikely to change these dynamics. Killing Tony the Tiger will not be enough to change the dynamic of growing obesity rates. Nor will taxing soda do the whole job.

We will need to pressure, regulate, and most importantly, engage the industry to solve this problem. The industry must develop a better business model for food marketing. That model will shift from selling ever more calories toward selling a mix of products that offer greater value for health and well-being. Cheap calories in warehouse quantities are slowly destroying our health.

For further perspective, this overview by Pierre Chandon and Brian Wansink might be helpful. In addition, Kevin Hall offers relevant perspective here.

In-N-Out Burger, photograph © Motel George / flickr

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June 4, 2018

2 Responses to “More Food, in More Places, for More Occasions to Eat”

  1. June 04, 2018 at 1:40 pm, Chester Draws said:

    That model will shift from selling ever more calories toward selling a mix of products that offer greater value for health and well-being.

    Not possible. At least not with a free market.

    If there’s a gap in the market, it will be filled. People like churros. So manufacturers will make churros. If you stop one manufacturer making churros, then another will fill that space.

    Even if you persuade, somehow, a conglomerate to move toward a better mix, people will just pick out the bits they like. And some people will pick churros, when they should be eating raisins.

    The problem isn’t with the manufacturers at all. It’s with the consumers. No-one makes them buy the rubbish they buy. You simply cannot make people change what they like by removing advertising, as almost all advertising is to get market share, not to change the type of product. People ate churros long before there was advertising for them.

    You can’t get them to exercise by advertising gyms or sportswear either, for that matter. Advertising simply doesn’t have the power that people attribute to it.

    Nor can you make people buy a better range by offering them a better range. The range of good food we have on offer is already fantastic. It’s what I eat. It could be what everyone ate. They *choose* differently.

    Leave the manufacturers alone. It’s the consumers that have to change.

  2. June 04, 2018 at 2:14 pm, Ted said:

    Chester, at one time, automobiles were killing many more people than they do today. The conventional wisdom was “people will never buy safer cars.” Today, safety is a key selling point.

    I think food marketers will find a way to sell a highly profitable product mix that produces less obesity as soon as they decide that it’s in their best interest.