November 12, 2012 by jsohl
You can’t make it through a week without hearing or reading something about our obesity epidemic and ensuing health consequences. It is no secret that Americans need to improve their nutrition, and most people want to….that is, if there’s an affordable, convenient, and equally delicious way to do this. Heck many people would give it a shot if healthy foods even met two out of three of those criteria. If consumers are going to keep buying health foods and the food industry is going to profit, however, they better shoot for all three.
I think Walmart may have the right idea here with the program they unveiled in January 2011 They are making small changes. Switching from fettuccine alfredo to quinoa salad would send most consumers right back to the Twinkie aisle. Instead of drastic changes, Walmart has agreed to reduce sodium by 25% in many grain products, lunch meats, salad dressings and frozen entrees. They will also reduce added sugars by 10% in many items and eliminate trans fats in all packaged food items. These changes are to take place in their generic brands and brands sold by their major suppliers. Along with these changes, they have proposed to decrease markup on the healthier choices and provide clear front-of-package labels for healthier choices. Their Shopping Mattersguide also serves to educate their customers about making healthier choices. I believe that this plan is a good place to start. Steering consumers to healthier choices will take time and will backfire if drastic changes are made quickly.
McDonalds has jumped on board as well offering a low-fat dairy product or produce in each kids meal, committing to reduce sodium by 15% by 2015, changing portion sizes by 2020 to reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories, and increasing access to nutritional information. I think the timeline they have set is realistic. Could they make the portion size and sodium changes sooner? Of course, but if they did, it may just drive their customers to the fast food place down the street that offers bigger portions. By providing ample time to make the change, it is more likely that those who frequent McDonalds will adjust to the changes instead of running from them.
McDonalds is an industry leader, and other corporations such as Burger King has followed suit in offering customers healthier options. In fact, offering healthier options has become the trend for restaurants as well as groceries in the past few years. Whether or not consumers always choose those healthy options, the industries surely benefit from good PR when they provide their customers more options. For example, 2009 CBS news featured “The 10 Healthiest Fast Food Chains.” A little free advertising never hurts!
In order for sales of healthy foods to be viewed as a win-win for the food industry and the public, industry must be assured of continued profit and consumers must view the food they are offering as affordable, tasty, and a good deal. In order to be happy about purchasing healthy foods, they also must have baseline knowledge about how their bodies will benefit from switching from a less healthy option. For this reason, an educational component whether it’s in the form of front-of-package labels, advertising through television commercials, or other means like those supported through the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is imperative.