Friday, July 08, 2005

Making Bad Foods Look Good

Posted by AmishThrasher at 3:12 pm
1.88 servings of Diet Coke
Diet Coke:
Exactly 1.88 Servings
Choice Magazine has an interesting article up about the marketing tricks that some food companies use to make unhealthy foods look better than they are. While not legally speaking misleading, such packaging stretches the truth and makes use of loopholes in our 'honesty in advertising laws'. Some of these tricks include cans of Diet Coke, which are described as being 1.88 servings (so the claim can be made that it contains only 1 calorie per serve). Another trick exposed by Choice is by promoting the lack of negative qualities that you wouldn't expect the product to have anyway(to paraphrase Dave Hughes on the ABC's Glasshouse show, sand is fat free too - but it's not a good idea to eat it!).:

Food labels: 7 deadly sins
Sin 1: Accentuate the positive
Promote the (sometimes arguable) benefits, while ignoring the negatives.

Example: It’s common now to see packets of lollies extolling their ‘99% fat-free’ status, as if this will improve their practically-all-sugar reality. CHUPA CHUPS lollipops take it a step further with their ‘New formula with fruit pulp’. If you take in the ‘Freshness and fruit’ tag and the luscious fruit pics on the packet, it’s possible to infer that they contain fruit so they must be healthy — but the fruit content is a mere 3%.

Sin 2: A sporting chance
Utilise the belief that if the sports science sounds good, the product must be good.

Example: If you’re after a drink complete with a ‘unique energy management system’, look no further than Thorpey’s THORPEDO Water. We’re not sure what it means, but it sure sounds impressive.

Sin 3: Be vague
Use positive, but meaningless, descriptions.

Example: Terms and claims like ‘good’, ‘healthy’ and ‘nutritious’ sound positive, but aren’t defined by law so can legally be applied to pretty much anything. ‘Light’ or ‘lite’ is an equally vague description, and while labels must state what the product is ‘light’ in, it’s not always obvious. The label of CRISCO Canola Oil declares that ‘it’s light’ — light in kilojoules or fat you could presume. But the (very) small print reveals that it’s referring to colour and taste.

Sin 4: Tick tick tick
Boost the product’s appeal by giving it as many ticks as possible.

Example: It’s easy to assume that — much like the National Heart Foundation Approved tick — any tick on a food label means that the product meets certain nutrition criteria which could benefit your health. And the more ticks the better. But take the time to read what they represent, as often it’s little more than a trivial feature. The FERRERO Nutella ticks are as inconsequential as ‘contains skim milk’, ‘packed with hazelnuts’ (just as well, seeing it’s a hazelnut spread) and ‘only 7.6% cocoa’ (why ‘only’?).

Sin 5: Image magic
Lure you in with a picture that’s not necessarily representative of the product.

Example: MASTERFOODS Creamy Guacamole Style Dip is only 1% avocado, yet it shows a large picture of an avocado on the label and describes itself as ‘a smooth and creamy blend of tasty avocados, fresh capsicums, garlic and fragrant spices’. Those avocados must be particularly tasty if you only need such a small amount.

Sin 6: Sneaky servings
Use serving sizes that show the product in a favourable light.

Example: A standard 375 mL can of DIET COKE apparently contains 1.88 servings. Considering a can isn’t resealable, you’d think it’d make more sense for the whole can to be a single serve, rather than just 200 mL. But then, of course, it wouldn’t be able to make its famous ‘less than 1 calorie per serve’ claim.

Sin 7: The invisible bonus
Make a selling point of the absence of ingredients that you wouldn’t expect to be there in the first place.

Example: It would be rare canola or olive oil that contained cholesterol, considering that dietary cholesterol is only in foods of animal, not vegetable, origin. The same could be said for rice or breakfast cereals. But this doesn’t stop some brands from having ‘cholesterol-free’ declarations on their labels. It may be true, but it shouldn’t influence which brand you buy.

Labels aren't the only way to persuade a consumer a product's what they want.
* You can describe a fatty or sugary product as being “an important part of a healthy, balanced diet”, or as being “OK to eat occasionally, as long as you’re eating plenty of healthy food too”.
* You can also play on the notion that kilojoules are bad but energy is good to change a sugary, high-kilojoule food into one that’s “packed with energy”.
* An argument often used by the food industry is that “there’s no such thing as a bad food, just a bad diet”. If you subscribe to this you can produce and promote the least nutritious food, and simply put the onus onto the individual to get good nutrition elsewhere.


It's time that these loopholes got tightened up. Click through to read an excerpt.