Time to communicate the good news about our food

Ever notice how many foods and beverages now tout what ingredients they don't contain?

Ever notice how many foods and beverages now tout what ingredients they don't contain? There are soft drinks without high fructose corn syrup, products sans trans fat, and flavored waters with zero calories.

Stripping trans fat is a smart idea to help cut heart disease risk and there's no question that fewer calories are a good thing for a nation battling obesity. But numerous studies show that high fructose corn syrup is no different than any other sugar—a finding supported by Michael Jacobsen of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Marketing products without this sugar reflects the impact of a few very vocal food critics. It also shows the power of the digital world to amplify messages--even when they're inaccurate.

In recent years this changing landscape has led to many challenges for the food industry, which often faces “charges” of producing “processed” food that isn't “locally grown.” These messages resonate with a growing group of self-proclaimed “foodies,” who love cooking as a spectator sport. Yet, as the NPD Group, a market reseach company, has found, fewer and fewer Americans actually step inside the kitchen to prepare meals from scratch.

Think about it.  When was the last time that you baked a birthday cake, made chicken broth, or even bought chicken that hadn't been boned and skinned? Just 20 years ago, whole wheat pasta and bread were mostly found in health food stores. Sesame, olive, walnut, and pistachio oils were specialty items. Blueberries and strawberries weren't available year-round. Thirty years ago, ethnic food meant Italian and Chinese—not Thai, Indian, or Ethiopian. Forty years ago, yogurt was made at home. And hummus—well, only a few would have known what that was.     

Most grocery stores stock some 27,000 items, from staples to specialty items, including gluten-free bread, quinoa, and oil-cured olives.  It's time to better educate consumers about the value of our food supply from farm to shelves.  It's time to tell more of the good stories and to coach our clients to play more like offensive running backs who score touchdowns—and receive well-deserved laurels for their efforts. 

Sally Squires is SVP and director of health and wellness communications at Powell Tate, the Washington D.C. division of Weber Shandwick.

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