By Chuck Jolley
Health claims as marketing tools made by food marketers are like health claims made by over-the-counter vitamin supplements. Both are usually cleverly worded but empty promises that don’t do anything other than make a few people feel better about themselves. Marketing phrases like All Natural or Organic on a label or an ad almost always mean less than the paper they’re printed on. They’re often claims that live in “A World of Pure Imagination.”
To prove my point, let’s compare quarter pounders with cheese from two different vendors.
Darn close, aren’t they? I have to toss in a little disclaimer about #2. It’s on their web site so it must be true: “Nutritional content may vary because of changes in growing seasons, different suppliers, slight variations in our recipes, or the different places that we buy our ingredients.”
In other words, the data for #2 is their S.W.A.G., also known as a statistical wild ass guess. The numbers might be accurate or they might be way off, depending on what they purchase from day-to-day. Aren’t those marketers clever people? They can throw up some pretty good numbers but establish plausible deniability if they get caught being a little “off.”
Now for the reveal: Quarter pounder #1 is that nasty, highly processed burger peddled by those insidious folks at McDonald’s–the architects of the fast food/processed food empire, an axis of evil that includes a worldwide cabal of big food processors intent on killing off their customers with obesogenic food-like substances.
Quarter pounder #2 is a steak burrito bestowed upon an awe-struck group of healthier than thou millennials by the wholesome folks at Chipotle, the folks who just brought you “The Scarecrow,” that cute little bit of cartoonish propaganda. It’s a new game for iPhones and iPads that asks the youngsters who love playing games to “Join the scarecrow on his quest for better food.” Of course, it wasn’t their first cartoon that took amazing liberties with the truth. Remember their “Back to the Start” video that annoyed most people in the animal ag industry two years ago?
About that search for better food? The numbers indicate our scarecrow won’t be stopping at Chipotle. I’m sure there is a great farmers market nearby, though, that needs the services of a conscientious scarecrow.
The game itself certainly plays on many of the clever marketing statements made by another axis of food evil–Pollan/Bittman/Jacobsen, three men who have amassed a large following of people who love the romance of fresh-off-the-farm food and despise any suggestion that All Natural and Organic might not be the health panacea their proponents claim. Those three have also created a nice-sized cottage industry by taking minor differences with no real effects on human health and making them appear to be the keys to a long, lean life.
At the bottom of the Chipotle web site is this phrase: “Integrity is kind of a funny word for food.” And they have another phrase they like to make: “Food with integrity is our commitment to finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment and the farmers.” I won’t call them out on their claims about the animals or the environment. That’s the heart of another discussion. Based on their cartoons, though, I will question their respect for the farmers who supply them with their products.
Chuck Jolley is president of Jolley & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm limited to the food service and food safety industries. He writes for a variety of industry publications, including Cattlenetwork and Feedstuffs/Foodlink.