Fit to Eat: News from the Food World – Marketing and Advertising Edition

ColumnAdvertising tricks from the food world.

In this edition of Fit to Eat, we’re focusing on advertising and marketing: the good, the bad, the ugly and some gray areas in between. The very bad form award goes to one well-known seafood chain using the prospect of ocean species extinction as a marketing campaign to sell menu items; Chipotle, the burrito chain, enlists Willie Nelson to cover a Coldplay hit to highlight the company’s commitment to supporting small scale farmers; Yum! Brands, the grease factory that brings us Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell, is working state by state to make it possible for food stamp recipients to use their Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars on fast food (I can see the billboards now); Con Agra is being sued in a class action for advertising its genetically modified corn oil as “100% natural”; and Dean Foods touts that its chocolate milk is made from…milk! Imagine that, real milk, coming soon to a school lunch tray near you.

“Save the Salmon” says Legal Sea Food, but not because salmon are an important part of the food chain, or because they are a sacred food to Native Americans, or because they are amazing creatures. Nope. Save them so that Legal Sea Food can sauté them with lemon butter sauce. Same goes for trout and crab. Yeah, it’s supposed to be funny, but environmentalists aren’t laughing.

Chipotle, the only national fast food chain that sources hormone and antibiotic free meats, produced this animated video of farmers going back to the old ways of doing things with Willie Nelson covering the haunting Coldplay song “The Scientist” in the background. Cynical marketing campaign or sheer brilliance?

Ever looking for new markets, Yum! Brands is applying for inclusion in the food stamp programs in several states. On one hand, it looks like a giant government subsidy for fast food, but the company says fast food is one of the few food options available to homeless food stamp recipients and others without kitchens or the ability to prepare meals.

Some clever lawyers turned the GMO industry’s own language against it, suing Con Agra for its use of the verbiage “100% Natural” on cooking oil that is likely to be made from genetically modified plants. Zeroing in on this definition of GMOs from Monsanto, “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs,” the lawsuit contends that consumers are being misled by labels that convey that the product is a natural, wholesome product.

Aiming its new high fructose corn syrup-free chocolate milk squarely at school lunch programs nationwide, Dean Foods unleashes a marketing blitz to tout the attributes of its TruMoo chocolate milk product, among which is the selling point that it’s actually milk! Nutritionists are split on whether or not chocolate milk should be allowed in schools. What’s your take?

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.


Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.