Category Archives: Health and Nutrition

In honor of Michael Phelps: A new way to think about counting calories

Today, let’s talk about a different way to think about calorie intake or “share of stomach.”

In one of our first posts, we addressed the problem of obesity in this country, trying to add a dose of sanity to counter the notion that the food industry is solely to blame for it. We pointed out that the decisions people make about diet and exercise, along with genetics, also factor into the equation. But basically, it’s calories in, calories out.

If you’ve been following the Olympics this week, you might have heard that 14-time gold-medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day to keep his engine going.

Phelps also swam about five miles a day during the Olympics. If that sounds like a lot of exercise, that’s because it is. To put it another way, conventional wisdom is that swimming five miles is like running 20 miles. Imagine running 140 miles in a week.

Unlike Phelps, most of us need far fewer than 12,000 calories to keep our motors running. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization say the average American consumes about 4,000 calories a day.

That’s still a fair amount of calories to count. And the reasons for consuming those calories are numerous and diverse:

  • To satisfy hunger
  • To experience flavors and textures
  • To soothe emotional wounds
  • To celebrate achievement

We talk a lot in our business about share of stomach. Usually, we’re talking about our share versus our competitors. We ought to be trying to learn what types of emotions and activities are responsible for what percentage of our target consumers’ caloric intake.

Make sure you’re taking a detailed account of WHY your customers are buying and consuming your brands.

At every point possible in the buying process, take advantage or opportunities to ask questions. Put questions on coupons. Offer discounts for answering questions. Put surveys on cash register receipts.

This next part will seem a little foreign to some people. Rather than asking about satsifaction with the product, ask your consumer about themselves. Ask them why they made the purchase when and where they did. People would much rather talk about themselves than you.

It’s a natural thing to ask, and the answers will tell you the language, tone of voice and venues in which to best communicate to your targets when they’re making their food choice.

Stylish AND Cheap Sells; Good Advertising Helps

Just because we advocate appealing to people’s heightened dollar-value consciousness doesn’t mean we necessarily advocate abdicating style, fun and intellectual and emotional appeal.

What do these things have in common?

a. Burger King Whopper Jr.
b. Taco Bell bean burrito
c. McDonald’s Big N’ Tasty
d. Wendy’s Small Frosty

We’ll give you a hint: They’re all available for about a buck on the value menus of their respective QSRs (quick service restaurants).

In a recent post, we talked about how fast and cheap seem to be winning out, at least if three-year stock performance is any indication.

But as we’ve also discussed, being fast and cheap, even under the threat of rising prices and reduced productivity, isn’t enough. Consumers want it all, remember? And they’re always right. You have to be cool, stylish and lifestyle-relevant while satisfying the more mundane elements of the value equation.

So, once again, we sing the praises of the Golden Arches. “What makes them so great?” You ask. Check this out.

Hot (at least half the time) food, wrapped in paper and set on a tray is nothing special. That’s where advertising comes in.

Food, any kind of food, fast food included, has numerous close substitutes. And regardless of what we tell ourselves, there’s only so much we can do to the product itself. We can improve service, make the experience more exotic and, importantly, we can create an expecation or reinforce a decision with the use of properly placed, relevant and compelling advertising.

In a world with hundreds of different fast food options, McDonald’s makes people feel good about having just visited one of the chain’s thousands of locations by reinforcing their choice with messages like the Chicken Dance commercial.

It may not get you to run right out and by an Extra Value Meal. But it will reduce the cognitive dissonance that many people feel before, during and after eating at the restaurant. “I really want the burger and fries, but I know that later I’ll feel like I could have made a healthier choice. Still, it’s always so satisfying.”

It doesn’t hurt that this particular ad is tagged with a shot of a seemingly healthy wrap, Dasani bottled water and a fruit/yogurt parfait. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that many of us won’t be ordering that particular combination of menu items.

But that doesn’t matter. McDonald’s has given us the options, shown us how much fun their brand adds to our lives and simply asked us to make them a part of our lives. It’s not a push-y strategy at all. They’ve even toned it down on the promotional offers, specials and movie tie-ins. It’s not all about product and price.

If McDonald’s and Wal-Mart can do it, smaller competitors who trail them better take notice.

The Localization of Food Brands

Once, long before she had celebrated her Bicentennial, America had a local-regional food system.

The Spoon is not quite 40, but there used to be a dairy that supplied reusable milk bottles full of ice-cold milk just across town from where we lived. There was a meat market. And a bread store. It wasn’t until 1978 that the one-stop supermarket really started to show up in our part of Middle America.

This is important to consider because consumers have started a dull roar of demand for a return to this type of specialization and localization. Why? There are several factors. Their order of importance depends on the individual consumer.

  • Health. This is number one. In surveys, people cite freshness as the top concern about food. According to a survey by Yankelovich, they also equate freshness with health. And when they know their food came from someplace nearby, they feel it is fresher, healthier and safer to eat.
  • Altruism. People believe they are helping out their local economy, but more especially farmers, when they “buy local.” Consumers also tend to believe that “the little guy” has less of a negative impact on the environment, lending additional “greenness” to their purchase.
  • Quality. Aside from food safety concerns, consumers tend to report that locally-produced products taste better, have better texture and perform better in recipes. They are also usually willing to pay more for products that travel lesser distances and are grown using practices that are inefficient.

Whatever their reasons, Desmond Jolly a retired professor from the University of California did important work that shows there are plenty of reasons to believe this emerging trend is not going away. He sees it as more than just a luxury of the coveted wealthy segment of America. Interestingly, one survey showed 55 percent of households buying these foodstuffs earned over $60,000 per year, meaning almost half of such households earned less than $60,000 per year.

Researchers point out that going local may also be a way to negotiate many challenges, from improving pre-natal health of low-income mothers to providing as yet untapped career opportunities for new generations of American workers.

To paraphrase Eastern philosophy, this ox is small right now, but it is growing. We can choose to put a yoke on it now and benefit from its strength, or we can look on in horror as it tramples our crops.

Vacation Odyssey Day Four: Breakfast—The Most Important Snack of the Day

Does it count as a snack if you eat it for breakfast? When does it stop being a snack and become a meal?

A meal should fill one completely. Maybe breakfast is less about filling the tank and more about providing enough fuel for the initial spark that gets the engine going for the day.

If that’s the case, then let’s take a look at some of our favorites, and why they’re our favorite snack and/or brand of snack.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It’s easy. Pretty much everybody likes it. It’s a fantastic family cereal. Cereal, even with added sugar and corn syrup, is hard to beat for a meal, in-between snack or, as designed, for breakfast.

Odwalla Bar! Nourishing Food Bar. Huzzah! Four words: Eight grams of protein. An energy bar that tastes good and still packs a nutrient-rich punch. We like the chocolate chip peanut bar. This bar is also worthy of applause because it’s a natural product-line extension for the people known for being natural, energizing and body-friendly because their juices were rich, tasty, funky and minimally-processed before it was cool. (Available online from Amazon and many grocery stores.)

Pie or brownies. These unbranded little daisies are great vacation breakfast food that’s easy to eat, pleasing to the palate and full of quick energy, plus carbs. There’s a reason why pie is served at rest stops on long bicycle rides. We’ve already seen “breakfast” and “energy” cookies for on-the-go professionals and sportos. Heck, Snickers has an energy candy bar. So we think some smart food marketer should come up with breakfast brownie or pie that has health and energy benefits but plenty of sweetness!

Courtesy gotmilkbottles.com

gotmilkbottles.com

got milk? It’s still a commodity, so we’re not going to lie and say anyone has done a good job of marketing their own brand (except maybe Borden, Shatto-two brands with whom we work-and a select group with an enduring brand, family focus or locally-grown point of differentiation.) But you gotta have the cold, creamy white stuff to complement the snacks we’ve covered above. As Cosmo Kramer would say, “Delicious. Nutritious. Outrageous!”

Vacation Snack Odyssey Day Three: Does a Bear Like Snacks?

Apparently, the answer to that question is an unqualified “Yes.”

Early one morning of the trip, the Spoon walked out and discovered a mess from what looked to be a week’s worth of trash strewn all over the driveway, about 50 feet from where it should have been in the storage shed. (See photo above.)

And not far from the three-dimensional multimedia collage was a telltale sign that the culprit was of the ursine variety. That is, this bear left an apparent sign of his approval of the feast in the form of a nice pile of bear scat.

So in the spirit of our vacation’s theme, we give you the bear’s list of favorite human snack food.

  1. Coca-Cola. This seemed to meet with the bear’s approval, judging from what looked to be teeth marks in the cans that had previously held the corn-syrup equivalent of sweet nectar. Maybe the folks in Atlanta have a new spokes-species.
  2. Cantaloupe. Again, something sweet seems to be what pleases. Or at least it was worth ripping the door off a shed to get to. Of course, most of what was left in the trash had been peel, so a little roughage was seemingly in order, as well.
  3. Bacon drippings. Yep. The bear likes a little porkbelly grease. Given the similarities between the omnivorous habits of humans and bears, perhaps there is a product line extension opportunity in here for the hog producers and packers: Bear Hollow Bacon Drizzle. Mmmmm.

Vacation Snack Odyssey Day One: Replenishment is Important

Oberto natural beef jerky and a bag of Art and Mary’s potato chips, after a big breakfast at the Famous Serveteria sustained us well. But 200 miles into our 500-mile trip, it was time to top off the gas tank in the Honda Odyssey and top off the road pantry with our favorite snacks. Here are our selections by team member:

The Spoon
The cooler was already loaded with plenty of cold citrus green tea (Big K, the Kroger private label beverage, is a surprisingly good substitute for Lipton when the Dillons market runs out of the name brand). This trip inside the truck stop called for something salty. Oh, yeah: Corn Nuts. It’s vacation. Corn Nuts: For when you’ve got 300 miles to go and you don’t care if your breath smells like dog food.

Try the barbecue-flavored snack size. With a mild taste and 200 calories, it’s a great shot of grain-based energy that awakens the senses and complements a cold beverage SO nicely.

Mama Spoon
After driving the first leg of the early-morning trip, Mama Spoon was ready for a nap, but it wasn’t long after catching a few winks that she was up and downing a quart of G2 from Gatorade.

She has discovered the hydration and electrolyte infusion is the perfect preventative medicine for altitude sickness, which can result in headaches and fatigue.

Little Spoon 1
This pre-teen consumer treats selecting a snack like picking Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club competition. After much deliberation, he picks up a snack-size bag of Doritos QUEST chips. These are the ones that challenge you to guess the flavor and win a prize. So we’re almost to the register, and he changes his mind. He goes back for the Mounds bar, instead. “Why?” you ask.

“Well, the DARK chocolate was too hard to resist,” he says. “And the coconut was a different flavor to throw into the mix.” Note to parents: Don’t let your kids search for “mounds” on the Internet. Specify “mounds candy bars.” We’re not even joking.

Little Spoon 2
There are a couple of reasons why this kid’s nickname is Sweet Tart. One reason is she loves sweet and tangy candy. Sour LifeSavers juicing gummies were an easy choice for her. They come in a bag. They’re not messy.

As a parent, now that you’ll appreciate that they keep a kid pretty busy and quiet for awhile, too.

The Mother Road yields a mother lode

On the ground in Tulsa less than three hours and already there are exciting food marketing revelations in this town along the Great American Highway. After a tasty and filling early dinner at Pei Wei, it was off to Wild Oats to see the latest products and brands of natural and organic food.

The decidely neighborhoodly feel of Wild Oats was complemented fairly naturally, if you will, by the 365 brand a la Whole Foods. It is amazing how seamlessly even private-label brands can assimilate with other stores following mergers and acquisitions.

We also encountered some really special brands. Some new. Some familiar. They all have something to teach us about a topic we touch on a few posts ago: It’s better to be first than better.

Exhibit A: Pet Food

This brand takes it to an all new level. It says, “It’s not about taste, it’s not about health, it’s not about all-natural ingredients. It’s about wellness, Mr. and Mrs. Cat Owner. A holistic approach to food your cat deserves.”

It’s an “everyday” brand of cat food, but one that promises the all-around, no-compromise lifestyle your cat expects. After all, you expect to be able to “indulge” routinely on a moment’s notice without having to sacrifice health or convenience.

Your feline friend should get the same treatment. Wellness cat food promises just that.

So for being the no-compromise brand of cat food for unpretentious, yet discerning kitties, Wellness wins the Get Your Kicks Award in the pet food category.

Exhibit B: Beverage

The market is flooded with tea of all varieties and brands nowadays, and teas promising medicinal and antioxidant effects are among the most popular.

So what is a brand of tea to do? Obviously “first” has been claimed long ago by Lipton, Nestea, Republic of Tea and HonestTea, among others.

The beauty of innovation is that one can be first by creating a category or sub-category, staking out a unique position and value proposition.

GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha Muli-Green tea has established a convenient bottled, refrigerated tea for the serious imbiber determined to replenish and rejuvenate everything from digestion to immune system to healthy skin and hair.

It’s all thanks to the power of a “handmade Chinese tea that is delicately cultured for 30 days. During this time, essential nutrients form like: Active Enzymes, Viable Probiotics, Amino Acids, Antioxidants and Polyphenols.”

Those attributes appeal to tea and health aficionadoes, along with a price of $3.99 for 16 ounces that separates the serious from the casual. GT’s Kombucha, you win for taking tea to a whole new level.

Exhibit C: Snack Food

This one is proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. For a long time, Terra was the first and only exotic vegetable chip.

Recently, the latest iteration of the health food craze has spawned other vegetable chips, along with regional chip-makers, kettle-cooked chips and other “gourmet” offerings.

This new bag of snacks from Terra is called Stripes and Blues. Just in time for the dog days of summer, it’s a break from the brand’s traditional taro chips and other mainstays. These chips are also seasoned with sea salt, leveraging another popular item. What’s more, they have zero trans fat.

All this to say that the brand is always looking for brand-appropriate product line extensions to stay ahead of intruders into its market space.

Terra Stripes and Blues demonstrate that even if you’re first, you still have to stay fresh. So they’re the King of the Road in snacks.