Loads of Passion, Brazil

Marketing the Ingredients for a Lousy Diet in Brazil

Brazil has a serious public health problem growing in plain sight. Obesity is now a larger problem than hunger in South America’s biggest economy. A detailed report in the New York Times today paints a picture of multinational food companies expanding their businesses in Brazil with disastrous results.

The Brazilian Ministry of Health reports that obesity has risen 60% in just a decade. Based on self-reports – which typically understate the problem – the ministry says says 19% of Brazilians have obesity and 54% have excess weight.

The Best of All Possible Worlds?

Professor Anthony Winson describes a global problem of processed food marketing that has two sides:

The prevailing story is that this is the best of all possible worlds – cheap food, widely available. If you don’t think about it too hard, it makes sense. But, to put it in stark terms, the diet is killing us.

Marketing Fortified Cereal and Candy Bars

The Times describes a direct sales army in Brazil delivering fortified infant cereal along with candy bars for Nestlé. One of those vendors, Celene da Silva, 29, tells the Times about her weight and her new diagnosis of high blood pressure. She attributes her medical problem to fried chicken and the Coca-Cola she drinks with every meal, including breakfast.

Unsustainable Food Marketing Practices

These are marketing practices that more developed countries are simply no longer tolerating. Nestlé wants to get rid of its candy business in the U.S. It’s working hard to cultivate a stronger health and nutrition image. Sugary processed foods generate lots of pushback here and in many other countries around the world.

But in markets like Brazil, the company is still selling its Kit-Kat bars alongside more nutritious offerings. Isn’t there a way to claim some of the benefits of processed foods, without extracting a toll upon population health? Professor Mike Gibney, an advisor to Nestlé sees a dilemma:

We’re not going to get rid of all factories and go back to growing all grain. It’s nonsense. It’s not going to work. If I ask 100 Brazilian families to stop eating processed food, I have to ask myself: What will they eat? Who will feed them? How much will it cost?

As the world’s largest packaged food company, Nestlé will have to come up with better answers. Already, the public in Brazil believes that addictive junk foods are the cause of obesity. And this belief is especially strong there.

Ask Coca-Cola what happens when you become corporate public enemy #1. Short-term business gains evaporate. The future starts looking dim.

The questions that Gibney raises are important. The answer is more sustainable food marketing practices. But anyone who thinks it will be easy is a fool.

Click here to read more from the New York Times, here to read more about obesity in Brazil, and here to read more from ConscienHealth on food marketing practices.

Loads of Passion, fruit of Brazil; photograph © Flávio / flickr

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September 17, 2017

4 Responses to “Marketing the Ingredients for a Lousy Diet in Brazil”

  1. September 17, 2017 at 9:22 am, Susan Burke March said:

    A very nuanced and comprehensive report. I posted this yesterday on my DPG listservs too. Thanks for sharing the links to your report, it’s an important piece!

    • September 17, 2017 at 10:01 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Susan! I’d love to hear what you have learned in Ecuador.

  2. September 17, 2017 at 8:24 pm, Susan Stringfellow said:

    While working in the Phillipines in 1975, I was aware of the aggressive marketing by Coca-Cola (locally produced). Nuns working with the poor in the barrios were devising recipes with Coca-Cola as it was so cheap, with the result that people were replacing locally grown fruits & vegetables with Coca-cola as an ingredient in their meals, not to mention drinking the stuff.
    Shame on Nestlé – their marketing of junk food is the same as the British forcing opium on the Chinese in the 19th Century.
    Even in Australia where I live, the cost of fresh vegetables & fruit has increased markedly and this combined with increasing density in the cities & suburbs which means that people in the suburbs can no longer grow their own therefore people on a limited budget often choose a cheap fast food meal (chicken stuffed with antibiotics & transfat chips) over a home cooked meal of vegetables & protein. We used to be a fit nation – now we are a fat nation!

    • September 18, 2017 at 5:09 am, Ted said:

      I see nothing wrong with pressure for social responsibility. But to bring change will also require constructive engagement. I know many good people at Nestlé who are working hard on issues of corporate responsibility. The issues are far from simple, as I think the Times article explains reasonably well.