The nation’s largest producer of baby carrots launched an advertising campaign earlier this year positioning baby carrots as the extreme new junk food. The send-up includes all the bells and whistles you might expect from the worst of seductive junk-food advertisers, replete with fancy new “junk food packaging.” It’s hilarious, but one has to wonder what this says about the efficacy of junk-food marketing. As in, if carrots are adopting these tactics, something must be working. And working well! According to the Federal Trade Commission, food makers spend $1.6 billion annually to reach children through advertising; while obesity statistics show that 34 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are now classified as obese.
While many of the large-scale food production companies are leaning toward wellness initiatives, is the food industry really moving in the right direction, or are those just marketing ruses? Ultimately, makers of junk food have goals to meet and shareholders to please—can they really be spending millions of dollars trying to encourage people to eat less of their products? Me thinks, a big, fat, salty, sugary “no.” Here are some of the tricks the junk food industry uses to subtly sway us into buying their wares.
1. Misleading labels
You’d think with all the regulations we have that labeling would be pretty straightforward—but if there’s a workaround, there’s a marketing department that will find it. Here are a few labeling tricks to look for.
This is a tricky one, duping even the savviest of label scourers. Most of us know that ingredients are listed in order from most to least and we’ll look to see where, say, sugars or fats are listed in the order. But, ingredient groups aren’t required to be listed together. So, for example, an item could contain corn syrup, cane sugar, and fructose in seemingly minor quantities toward the bottom of the list–but if you combined them together in a general group of “sugar,” they quickly move to the top.
• “Made With Whole Grains”
We keep hearing about the importance of eating whole grains, but just because a product touts that it is “made with” or “contains” whole grains doesn’t mean that whole grains make up the bulk of it. Many grain-based junk food items are predominantly made with refined grains, with a spattering of whole grains thrown in for labeling credibility. Check to see where on the ingredient list the word “whole” is. If the first ingredient is “whole” wheat flour (or other grain), you’re in luck. If it’s way down the list, you’ve been punked.
• Serving Size
Serving size has nothing to do with the ingredients list, but it can have a dramatic effect on the nutrition panel. By divvying up a serving into several smaller servings, the less desirable nutritional elements (calories, sodium, fat, sugar, etc) are significantly reduced.