'Better-for-You' Foods Benefit the Food Industry if Marketed as Such

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A study released yesterday reports that so-called "better-for-you" (BFY) foods (those low in salt and sugar, high in fiber or with added vitamins, for example) may account for only about 40 percent of company sales, but they account for more than 70 percent of growth in sales.

According to the press release accompanying the report, companies that sell BFY products "record stronger sales growth, higher operating profits, superior shareholder returns, and better company reputations than companies that sell fewer BFY products."

The public-health implications? According to the report:

  • Placing more emphasis on selling BFY foods and beverages is an effective pathway to improved sales, profits, shareholder returns, and reputation.
  • Proof that bottom lines can benefit when companies have a greater percentage of sales from BFY foods could accelerate progress toward the development and marketing of more nutritious foods.
  • Public health officials and policymakers need to be aware of food and beverage companies' core business goals in order to work effectively with them to address the obesity epidemic.

I emphasize the third one because it sounds so much like a veiled threat.

I think it means that if public health officials want the food industry to make healthier food products, they better let food companies market their products any way they like:

  • To children with no restrictions
  • Using cartoons on packages of products aimed at children
  • Using health claims with no restrictions
  • Using front-of-package labels that emphasize "good-for-you" nutrients

Or else.

Or else what? Just watch what the food industry will do (and is doing) whenever public health officials try to restrict advertising to children or demand that companies put nutritional "negatives" on front-of-package labels.

Here's CNN Health's account (I'm quoted) and the one in the Wall Street Journal.

Image: Cardello.

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This post also appears on Food Politics.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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