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Pundit’s Mailbag — Do Consumers Want To Eat Healthy?

Our piece, ‘Nutrition-Education Doesn’t Work’ Says Associated Press Review Of Literature, which was followed up with Pundit’s Mailbag — ‘More Matters’ Can Be A Rallying Cry For The Industry, brought some comments about “health claims,” which we also dealt with in our piece FDA Nixes Health Claim Of Tomatoes Because Of Poor Evidence…Can PBH Step In?

This trenchant letter expressed decided opinions on the matter:

Some very astute observer whose name I can’t recall once claimed, ”Every good cause starts as a movement, degrades into a business and ends up as a racket.” With health claims, we’re there. Is there anyone who doesn’t know that being overweight is bad, that eating fruits and vegetables is good; that smoking is bad, that exercise is good and that unprotected sex is risky?

The only benefit derived from generating and propagating more health claims is money made by those who generate and propagate those claims.

People want to be thin more than they want to be healthy. Most dieters fail not because they lack information, but because they lack willpower. We want it easy and we want it now. Atkins and liposuction and Fen-Phen and dozens of miracle elixirs sold on Sunday morning infomercials are popular not because they have scientific merit but because they promise a quick and easy result.

The challenge of obesity is to change the behavior. The approach must be motivational and not informational. PBH has changed to an emotional appeal from the educational approach. Johnny won’t eat his peas, so we must convince him it’s fun and cool and hip and pleasurable to eat his peas.

So in a few years, after dedicating much time, talent and treasure to create emotional appeal to consume produce, will we be a thinner and healthier nation? Emotion is a fickle motivator and I fear not a sustainable one.

Weight reduction is not quick and easy but requires sustained self discipline. Ultimately self discipline is the behavior trait we must figure out how to trigger to make a dent in the obesity epidemic.

— John Pandol
Vice President Special Projects
Pandol Bros.

It was the longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer who is responsible for the saying John recalls. He also worked as a migrant farm worker and was quite skeptical of the way the intellectual elite fawned over nature, since as a migrant farm worker, he mostly experienced painful interactions with the great outdoors.

The whole issue of marketing by focusing on the healthy aspects of our products, a position as close to a religion as exists in produce, is in fact highly questionable… Partly because many of the health claims are highly questionable, but also because it is not clear that we are delivering what consumers really want.

As John accurately points out, the health information is out there, and that raises this question: Do people really want to eat healthy and exercise — or do they want to eat what they feel like, watch TV and take Lipitor to solve any negative consequences?

Put another way, if we want to sell strawberries, is the most effective method to turn them into some kind of medicine that can prevent ailments or is it to partner with the chocolate, whipped cream and Champagne people and sell them as an indulgence?

Can we do both?

One thing we shouldn’t do is fool ourselves. Consumers are what consumers are, and they react the way they react. If consumers are not responsive to our message, we have to change our message. It is too easy to “blame the customer” for being “too stupid” to respond to our entreaties.

Eric Hoffer wrote a number of longer books, but we have always liked one particular quote that came from a book of shorter entries, entitled The Passionate State of Mind. Try this one on an employee, a co-worker or a child next time they come up with an excuse for why they can’t succeed in life:

“There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”

We can always find a million alibis for why our efforts don’t succeed… or we can work harder to find alternative approaches.

We thank John for his useful reminder on these matters.

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