Imitation is the best form of flattery, but lately this copycatting is leaving a bad taste.
Considering the labeling term natural once appeared on Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish packaging, I’m well aware that conventional food brands adopt (or is hijack a more apt term?) values important to the natural industry.
I understand why.
The natural products industry is slated to grow to $226 billion by 2018, two and a half times the expected growth rate of mainstream consumer packaged goods, according to Nutrition Business Journal. Indeed, it would be bad business to ignore such tenets, which include transparency, minimal processing and non-GMO.
Dedicated natural consumers who patronize independent natural retailers or co-ops likely aren’t fooled by conventional manufacturers' green guise. These conscious shoppers post Cornucopia Institute infographics on Facebook, enjoy cooking with the latest healthy ingredients (Chia-Crusted Curry Tempeh. It’s What’s For Dinner), and like Haley Joel Osment, they have a sixth sense for brand authenticity, unwavered by silly healthy claims and deceptive rustic packaging.
I’m not worried about these folks.
I’m worried about the people who want to eat better, but don’t necessarily know where to begin.
Conventional brands muddy the natural message
Perhaps in response to the fast food chain’s 30 percent sales slump, McDonald’s recently launched a campaign called “Our food. Your Questions” intended to correct rumors about its products. The company employs Grant Imahara, former co-host of Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” to host these videos, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Improving food transparency is never bad, but if sales were up I doubt this initiative would exist.
Happily, comedian John Oliver promptly discredited the campaign: “You are independently investigating the company paying you to conduct an independent investigation,” he said of Imahara on his show, Last Week Tonight.
General Mills is also guilty: The company announced plans to offer Cheerios + Ancient Grains, a new cereal that contains Kamut wheat, spelt, quinoa and oats. On one hand, the product could act as a gateway for consumers to learn about these other grains. But Cheerios + Ancient Grains contains significantly more sugar and less fiber than Original Cheerios.
To be fair, General Mills doesn’t claim the product is healthier. “Building a more nutritious food than regular Cheerios ‘wasn’t the motivation for this product,’ says Steve Marschner,” reports WSJ. But ancient grains are known for their excellent nutrition. Of course consumers will think Cheerios + Ancient Grains is a better-for-you product.
Theoretically we should laud McDonald's and Cheerios for implementing natural industry morals. But doing so merely as a perfunctory obligation to maintain sales? I don't think so.