This is a guest blog post by Bruce Bradley and was originally posted here.
In his 2005 bestseller Seth Godin proclaimed All Marketers Are Liars. It didn’t take long for Mr. Godin to admit that he was lying:
I wasn’t being completely truthful with you when I named this book. Marketers aren’t liars. They are just storytellers…
At the time Mr. Godin’s book was released, I was working in the heart of Big Food launching a new “yogurt”-coated cereal. I didn’t feel like I was lying—maybe pushing boundaries, but definitely not lying.
Recently I was reminded of those days while watching this ad for Quaker’s new Yogurt Granola Bars:
Did you catch Quaker’s claims and tagline? Here are the highlights:
- “They’re whole grain good, and yummy good.”
- Real fruit pieces
- 12g of whole grains
- Creamy yogurt coating
- Tagline: “Treat Yourself Good”
So what do you think? Is Quaker lying? Well, while selling all the wonderful taste and whole grain aspects of their new yogurt granola bar, they’re definitely leanwashing some very unhealthy details from the ingredient label:
- 11 g of sugar from a vast variety of sources. If all these sugars were listed together on the ingredient label, I suspect “sugars” might be the first ingredient for these bars.
- A yogurt coating that is yogurt in name only. These coatings use highly processed, shelf-stable dairy ingredients (most likely from cows treated with growth hormones) and flavors to imitate the taste of yogurt. The truth is, these coatings are all sugar and fat, and have no active cultures and none of the probiotic benefits of yogurt.
- 4.5g of fat of which 2.5g are saturated fats
- GMOs from genetically modified soy, corn, and sugar
- Preservatives (BHT) and artificial colors
- Palm kernel and palm oils which are often harvested unsustainably, resulting in deforestation and reduction of critical habitats
So what’s so good about Quaker’s Yogurt Granola bars? Well, there are 12g of whole grain, but is that enough to make a food item good for you? Even Lucky Charms Treats have whole grains, but are they healthy? In fact, guess what? In a side-by-side comparison with Lucky Charms Treats, the venerable Quaker man comes up short vs. the little leprechaun:
So what’s with all the marketing madness of whole grains? Just because whole grains are healthy, doesn’t mean foods that contain whole grains are always good for you. As I pointed out in a recent Prevention.com interview:
…if I make a cake out of whole grain flour, it’s still a cake. It may be a little bit better for me than a regular cake, but it’s still cake.
All this whole-grain nonsense is reminiscent of the rationale behind the FDA’s “jelly bean rule”—a 1994 provision enacted to stop food companies from making erroneous health claims. When the contents of snack bars, cereals, and cookies are 30-50% sugar, but they still flaunt “whole grains” as a means to claim a healthier status in the minds of consumers, it’s very misleading. Don’t believe me? Then stay tuned for my next couple of posts where I’ll expose more of Quaker’s whole grain deception.
So is Seth Godin right? Are All Marketers Liars? I don’t think so, but unfortunately most of Big Food’s “storytelling” is far from the truth. So, I’m trying to change the conversation about food by blogging about the tricks, traps, and tools Big Food uses to get people eating more processed food. I’m also hopeful that my novel, Fat Profits, will get more and more people asking the crucial question, “Do I really know what’s in my food?”
Bruce Bradley worked for over fifteen years as a food marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. In 2008 Bruce left the corporate world and started his own consulting business. In his free time he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream, and his first novel, FAT PROFITS, is the result. Bruce writes about the food industry on his blog.