We have all heard that marketing and advertising taps into our subconscious mind and often makes us act in a rather irrational way. Food shopping and marketing is one such area, and since it can have a big impact on our wallet and health, it calls for some disclosures. If you want a more in-depth look, check out my How to Food Shop Guide, which focuses on the deceptive health claims on food products and the marketing done to increase profit, NOT to keep the consumer healthy.
Here are 10 Marketing Traps to Avoid:
- Product names create an illusion. When we see words like “Dutch Country”, “Italian”, “Homestead”, “Farm” we assume the product’s origin, quality and wholesomeness. Most often, they are far from representing a quality product. Read the labels: for sodium, sugar, additives content. In fact, the fancier the title, the more wary you should be.
- Visuals create an illusion too. Cows grazing in the hills as shown on a milk carton does not mean the milk comes from there. Marketers spend much time and money on imagery; family pictures, smiley faces, jumping girl, energetic young man all sell the products much better as they create a sense of aspiration of “I want that to be me”, “this is how I want to feel”. Often, the product is far from delivering on this aspiration. Let your rational mind kick in and read the product labels.
- “Enhanced” is synthetic. When the word “Enhanced” gets added to a product, sales boom. Then they plateau or drop, so a new “added” is invented. Most times “enhanced” means that synthetic vitamins or additives have been added. The truth is: they are highly toxic to us, we do not metabolize them well and they make us sick in the long run.
- “Low Fat” can be tricky. If you pick a “low fat” yoghurt, look at the label and you will find 25g to 30g of sugar which equals 6.5 to 8 spoons. Often times, it’s high fructose corn syrup, a highly toxic substance, banned in Europe. That’s a lot of sugar for a single serving, given that sugar is a big immunity suppressant – you will find yourself sick far less when you cut down the sugar.
- Discounts and “free” offers make us irrational shoppers. It has been scientifically proven that we lose our rational thinking capability when “discounts” and the word “free” show up. We end up overstocking, overbuying and overpaying. It’s best to pause and rationalize the purchase as if the word “free” were not there.
- Get them started early. Marketers know that brand loyalty and worst of all a subconscious brand loyalty is the pinnacle of marketing. Getting kids started and hooked on a brand will yield life-time long profits. Cartoon characters, toys, stickers and collectibles are powerful hooks not just aesthetics.
- “Once you pop you can’t stop?” This one is pretty disturbing as it is manipulative. When salt, sugar and additives (like MSG, but not only MSG!sdnm ) are combined, we eat more of that food as our senses get numbed. Think about it: did you ever exclaim “OMG, I’m so stuffed” after having finished a whole bag of salty chips all by yourself? Have you ever done that with a bag of raw, unsalted almonds?
- Healthy “hero product” is used to sell inferior products. A brands like Tropicana heavily markets its “100% Pure and Natural Orange Juice,” which is a good product that helped them establish the brand as a “healthy brand” in the eye of a consumer, so we trust the brand, associate it with good quality and health. Sadly, this is the only healthy product as all their other lines of products are made of concentrates and are overloaded with sugar and many use high fructose corn syrup. You may ask why they do it? It’s simple: the profits on the inferior products are much higher than the “hero product”- and they can get away with selling them because of the reputation established by their one healthy offering.
- Bread and pasta “made with whole grains” The claim means nothing, as all grain was technically “whole” at one point – even though, in inferior products, it may have then been bleached and stripped off all nutrients for the synthetic additives to be added. It’s best to look at the label. If it’s the real deal, the first ingredient name should be “whole grain (…)”.
- “Natural” – what does it mean? Nothing. Products just sells better when it’s there. For the real deal, look for “organic” and the USDA label.
Bottom line: most processed foods are marketed based on price, promotion and marketing claims. Large consumer brands are in the business of maximizing profits for their shareholders, not in the business of making us healthy. When you see them evolve their product lines it is only because YOU, the consumer, have shown them a trend. You can offer the healthful food industry a wonderful gift by putting your dollar behind good food: whole foods, made organically, locally, in season, by people who care.
In summary, this is what YOU can do:
- Forget the front packaging of a product and read the labels. Look at sodium, sugar, quality of fats, colorings and additives. A simple rule: if it contains words you cannot pronounce, do not buy it.
- Cross-check your own reactions to claims, fancy words, discounts and freebies and make educated choices.
- Continue your education on food and nutrition by following credible healthy food and lifestyle sources. Follow a Meal Planning Guide so that you will be prepared with a healthy shopping list when you go to the grocery store and you won’t have to worry about being pulled in by all those deceptive health claims.