Another Big Food Head Fake

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Food marketers like to portray their products as pure and simple when they really aren't

Last month Californians lost their fight to label GMOs with the defeat of Prop. 37. Thanks in large part to Big Food and Ag companies spending over $46 million on misleading and blatantly false advertising, consumers will remain in the dark about what’s really in their food.

But false and misleading advertising is nothing new to the food biz. As consumers have become more and more interested in simple, real foods, Big Food companies have become even more aggressive in refashioning their highly processed (hush, GMO-ridden) products into pure and pristine gems picked straight from nature’s fields. Nowhere is this advertising trend more evident than in the $10 billion U.S. cereal category where leaders Kellogg’s and General Mills are going head to head to claim the new high ground in food, simplicity. Let’s take a look at both of their advertisements:

Featuring beautiful images of corn fields and happy, healthy friends and family, Kellogg’s goes on to say:

Those who look to fuel body and mind with the simplest of grains, they’re not hard to find.

Just four ingredients, it all starts here, just as it was back 100 years.

From the seed to the spoon. Simple things go into every flake, every bite.

Genuine. True.

The simple grain cereals from Kellogg’s.

Start simple. Start right.

In comparison, General Mills’ take on simplicity is über simple with the majority of its commercial featuring no words at all–just a morning sunrise shimmering over a field of oats. The ad then ends with Cheerios’ iconic tagline “The one and only Cheerios” and a visual of “Simple.”

Now while Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Cheerios are relatively simple compared to the rest of the cereal category, both of these cereal manufacturers are forgetting something very important–most parents don’t consider products containing GMOs simple. And that reality came crashing down on Cheerios last week when its Facebook app was hijacked and turned against the venerable brand.

Cheerios PR Disaster

Hmmm … looks like hell hath no fury like parents scorned. [To learn more about this PR nightmare read PR Fail: Cheerios GMO Backlash Goes Social and the Wall Street Journal's Marketplace piece, GMO Inside Campaign: Cheerios Facebook Page Flooded By Anti-GMO Comments] And herein lies the problem for Big Food and Ag companies. The genie is out of the bottle. The real food movement is growing and with platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, Big Food doesn’t control the conversation anymore. Undoubtedly these corporations still have enormous power. Prop. 37′s defeat proved that. But consumers refuse to be ignored and have new ways of speaking out.

Given my experience as a former marketing leader on Cheerios’ sibling, Honey Nut Cheerios, many people have asked, “Will Big Food ever change?” Unfortunately, I don’t think it will happen any time soon. Relentless profit pressure from Wall Street drives quarter to quarter thinking that results in the entire industry being woefully short-term oriented and risk adverse. Although we may see occasional brands, like Cheerios, make quiet changes and remove GMOs, widespread change is further off since most of Big Food’s CEOs are relics of a different era–a time when corporations controlled consumers and media like puppet masters. Until the tides of that era fully recede, we will watch “trusted” brands run aground as real consumers demand full transparency and accountability from corporate America.

To make true, enduring change happen we must continue to challenge old thinking and demand more from Big Food. So if you’re committed to taking a stand for GMO labeling, here are some actions you can take to make a difference:

What do you think about Big Food’s actions regarding GMOs? Do companies like Kellogg’s and General Mills’ understand how we feel? And what are you personally doing to advocate for the changes you believe in? Please share your comments below.

As always, thanks for visiting my blog. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my book, Fat Profits, you can learn more about it here. Great reviews for Fat Profits keep rolling in, so there’s no better time than now to download your FREE chapter or to buy a copy to share as a special holiday gift! And if you’re new to my blog and you’d like to learn more about the tricks, traps, and tools Big Food uses to get people eating more processed food, please subscribe for the latest updates.

6 comments… add one

  • organiceater December 7, 2012, 11:35 pm

    thank you for giving us real steps we can take to help make change happen! another great post!!

    Reply
  • Vanessa B December 8, 2012, 9:27 am

    The more that I read about GMO’s the more I realize that it really stansa for Gross Me Out!

    Reply
  • Jill Budzynski December 10, 2012, 11:20 am

    Hi Bruce, I talk to anyone and everyone who will listen about GMO’s and their risks. I worked for a time with a small group of people trying to get GMO labeling on the Michigan ballot in 2012, but we lacked enough people and money to get all the signatures and combat Monsanto. There is no way to beat Big Food on the money front, what we can best do now is to get the populace moving and reprioritizing real food as essential in their lives and putting HUGE pressure on manufacturers to deliver what they demand.Much like climate change, this pressure needs to build while we still can save foodstocks from permanent pollution by GMO seeds, pollen, etc.

    Reply
  • Michelle December 10, 2012, 1:26 pm

    GMO or not feeding your kids cereal is like giving them a candy bar or breakfast. All of those processed grains turn into very quickly, even the organic ones. Processed is garbage no matter what pseudo-healthy label you put on it.

    Reply
  • Amanda Cowan February 2, 2013, 3:56 pm

    I’m an unprocessed work in progress. And I learn new things all the time. I’ve known about the GMO thing for awhile and I thought I was boycotting the right companies. Sometimes just thinking isn’t the best thing. From going through the information you shared, I realized some of our favorite ‘minimally processed’ foods were part of the problem. Kashi, Muir Glen, etc.

    So, we’ll continue to vote with our dollar. We also try as hard as possible to buy as much local as possible.

    Reply
  • Joe January 2, 2014, 11:22 pm

    Yes, sugary breakfast cereals are bad. No GMOs are not. There has never been any negative outcomes from an approved GMO product. Glyphosate and glufosinate tolerant crops have been widely cultivated for 20 years. Tens of TRILLIONS of meals prepared with GMO ingredients with a complete lack of problems. Just try and find another technology that safe.

    Reply

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Commenting Policy: Following the advice of a popular blogger, I’m running my blog conversation like it’s my living room. Just so you know, I won’t tolerate bad behavior in my living room, and I won’t tolerate it on here. Critical is fine and differing opinions are encouraged. But if you’re rude … bye bye. And when commenting, please use your PERSONAL name or initials and NOT your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. The bottom line is, be cool, keep it clean, and have fun! Thanks in advance for adding to the conversation!

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About Me:

Bruce Bradley

Bruce Bradley

I'm a father, food advocate, consultant, and author.

Bruce is a former processed food exec turned food advocate, blogger, and author.

Before his food advocacy work, Bruce worked for over fifteen years as a marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. As one of the only former processed food marketers actively speaking out about concerns over the food we eat, the media often seeks Bruce out for his honest perspective. His 2011 interview, Confessions of a former Big Food Executive, was one of Grist online's Top 10 clicked stories for 2011.

Bruce now writes, performs speaking engagements, and provides business strategy and marketing consultant services to help ethical, sustainable businesses reach their potential.

Bruce graduated with an MBA from Duke University and a B.A. from Davidson College. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, he now lives in Minneapolis, MN with his son and their dog, Katie.

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