Monday, February 25, 2013

Hide ya kids, Hide ya wife and Hide ya husband

...........because they are just messing up everybody's health outchea!

You don't have to come and confess, we done looking for you.  We done foooound you, we done found you.  Michael Moss ran and told that, ran and told that and that's why he's my homeboy, home home homeboyyyyy!

Leme stop. :)

Special thanks to, Antoine Dodson for the original lyrics from which I adapted the feature above and Michael Moss, the author of this amazing article.

Must Read!  The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food

Usually with the articles that I find, I will put my two cents in but TODAY I will let this article speak for itself.  I will pose some questions and simply highlight parts of the article that I think express some important concepts that answer those questions.  If you are short on time, just read my summary here.  Buuuut I encourage YOU to READ it in its entirety for yourself.  So ONE, my bias doesn't bias you and TWO, because KNOWLEDGE is POWER and I want you to have it.  It's a long article but well worth it.   

As the title suggest, this article details the inner workings of the junk food industry's campaign to exploit basic human responses to stimuli for monetary gain, BIG monetary gains.  Man, that's harsh Marsh! Well, I can try this euphemism instead......."junk food industry's campaign to encourage you to increase the likelihood of you consuming their products".  But I don't roll like that.  I gotsta make it plain.  When I say "inner workings", what I am referring to is the calculated science informed by data and mathematical models that provide companies with reliable formulas that will predict your behavior when it comes to your consumption of their products, detailing:
  • If you will like the product or not
  • How much you will like the product
  • How they can vary the formula while still maintaining what is known as the "bliss range", which is basically the range of optimal satisfaction with the product
Anywhoooos, let me stop rambling here about folk who knowingly damage our health and let the questions begin!

Question 1: Do the companies that produce junk food realize how negatively their products affect public health, especially the rates of obesity, hypertension and other diet-related disease?

"The public and the food companies have known for decades now...that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive."

Question 2:  Is there really a calculated science that informs the methodology of creating processed foods?

"In the process of product optimization, food engineers alter a litany of variables with the sole intent of finding the most perfect version (or versions) of a product. Ordinary consumers are paid to spend hours sitting in rooms where they touch, feel, sip, smell, swirl and taste whatever product is in question. Their opinions are dumped into a computer, and the data are sifted and sorted through a statistical method called conjoint analysis, which determines what features will be most attractive to consumers."

Photo Credit: Forrest Performance Group
Question 3: Okay, can you show me an example of exactly how this works?

Sure thing!  Let's take Prego for example.  Prego wanted to optimize their famous spaghetti sauce product and looked to the mathematical guru, Howard Moskowitz, a mathematician who essentially invented the most potent optimization strategy for processed food companies:

"Moskowitz’s work on Prego spaghetti sauce was memorialized in a 2004 presentation by...Malcolm Gladwell at the TED conference in Monterey, Calif.: “After . . . months and months, he had a mountain of data about how the American people feel about spaghetti sauce. . . . And sure enough, if you sit down and you analyze all this data on spaghetti sauce, you realize that all Americans fall into one of three groups. There are people who like their spaghetti sauce plain...spicy. And...extra-chunky. And of those three facts, the third one was the most significant, because at the time, in the early 1980s, if you went to a supermarket, you would not find extra-chunky spaghetti sauce. And Prego turned to Howard, and they said, ‘Are you telling me that one-third of Americans crave extra-chunky spaghetti sauce, and yet no one is servicing their needs?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And Prego then went back and completely reformulated their spaghetti sauce and came out with a line of extra-chunky that immediately and completely took over the spaghetti-sauce business in this country. . . . That is Howard’s gift to the American people. . . . He fundamentally changed the way the food industry thinks about making you happy.”

Photo Credit: EnchancingMyLife

Question 4: What is the focus of Moskowitz's optimization strategy?  What technique did he master that was so crucial?  What are companies looking for?  

"One thing Gladwell didn’t mention is that the food industry already knew some things about making people happy — and it started with sugar. Many of the Prego sauces — whether cheesy, chunky or light — have one feature in common: The largest ingredient, after tomatoes, is sugar. A mere half-cup of Prego Traditional, for instance, has the equivalent of more than two teaspoons of sugar, as much as two-plus Oreo cookies. It also delivers one-third of the sodium recommended for a majority of American adults for an entire day. In making these sauces, Campbell supplied the ingredients, including the salt, sugar and, for some versions, fat, while Moskowitz supplied the optimization. “More is not necessarily better,” Moskowitz wrote in his own account of the Prego project. “As the sensory intensity (say, of sweetness) increases, consumers first say that they like the product more, but eventually, with a middle level of sweetness, consumers like the product the most (this is their optimum, or ‘bliss,’ point).”

There it is. The bliss point!  The range in which your sensory satisfaction is at it highest.  This means you really like what you are eating and it makes you feel really good eating it.

Question 5: What was Moskowitz opinion of his own work?  How did feel about the fact that he was helping a lot of junk food companies make a lot of money while killing a lot of America's health.

"'There’s no moral issue for me,' he said. 'I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.'"

Where's the heart Howard, where's the heart?  How's your face looking right now?  Is the eyebrow raised yet?

Question 6:  Why is the bliss point so important?  What are the gains to understanding this concept and applying it?

Moskowitz was a highly valued consultant for a variety of companies, including Dr Pepper.  Dr Pepper was beginning to fall away from the 3rd place spot as a leading soda maker and contacted Moskowotz to help with this probelm.  Moskowitz soon powered up his stream-lined technique, including a ridiculous amount of Dr Pepper taste-testing sessions and soon produced a 135-page report for the company detailing every aspect of soda preference from flavor to "mouth feel".  This is what knowledge of the bliss point allowed:

"On Page 83 of the report, a thin blue line represents the amount of Dr Pepper flavoring needed to generate maximum appeal. The line is shaped like an upside-down U, just like the bliss-point curve that Moskowitz studied 30 years earlier in his Army lab. And at the top of the arc, there is not a single sweet spot but instead a sweet range, within which “bliss” was achievable. This meant that Cadbury could edge back on its key ingredient, the sugary Dr Pepper syrup, without falling out of the range and losing the bliss. Instead of using 2 milliliters of the flavoring, for instance, they could use 1.69 milliliters and achieve the same effect. The potential savings is merely a few percentage points, and it won’t mean much to individual consumers who are counting calories or grams of sugar. But for Dr Pepper, it adds up to colossal savings. 'That looks like nothing,' Reisner said. 'But it’s a lot of money. A lot of money. Millions.'"

Question 7:  Man, how many food companies use this type of optimization strategy?

Basically all of them.  Remember your prized Lunchables from 6th grade?  Oh yeah.  Those Cheetos that used to get your fingers all orange and salty and yummy? Oh Yeah.  They all employ their own variations.  Some focus on bliss point while others key in on consumer-informed marketing strategies but it's all the same game.  

Photo Credit: Weskos

Question 8:  So what happened with Lunchables?  

Oscar Meyer essentially was becoming outdated and wanted to re-invent themselves.  They hired a new vice president for business strategy by the name of Bob Drane.  Oscar Meyer didn't sugar coat a thing.  They asked Drane to basically figure out a way to repackage the same stuff they had because they weren't planning on coming up with any new recipes anytime soon.  This is where you see a business mindset at work.  It's actually quite fascinating.  Drane approaches the problem from a couple different angles.  He considers:

1.  Who was buying Oscar Meyer's products then stopped buying them

2.  What were the reasons that caused them to stop buying

3.  What factors contributed to those reasons

4.  What strategies could counter those reasons and reverse the decline in product consumption

I guess it made sense why they hired him because dude produced solutions.  And he produces them fast!

1.  He figured out that it was mostly mothers who were the largest percentage of consumers.

2.  From their feedback, he learned they had limited time to prepare lunch in the morning for their babes.

3.  He learned that demands of home and work-life created very hectic and time-sensitive schedules for the working mothers.

4.  He figured out that if he created an easy way for kids to access lunch without much work from the mothers themselves in preparing the meals, he'd found a gold mine.  All the mothers wanted was something that could let them feed their kids without crazy chaos in the mornings trying to prepare it for them.

Here comes Lunchables!  The company grossed $218 million in their first year of selling the product.  I mean this was part of pop-culture history.  Who didn't eat Lunchables growing up or at least remember seeing it all over the place in advertisements.  

Here is an interesting thing I noted.  Drane's own daughter, Monica Draine, grew up with Lunchables enough for them to be considered her siblings but doesn't serve it to her own children:

"My mom had joked that it was really like their fourth child, my dad invested so much time and energy on it.'  Monica Drane had three of her own children by the time we spoke, ages 10, 14 and 17. 'I don’t think my kids have ever eaten a Lunchable,' she told me. 'They know they exist and that Grandpa Bob invented them. But we eat very healthfully.'"

I wonder what a lot of children of junk food companies eat.  I really wonder.

Bob Drane now teaches University of Wisconsin M.B.A. students the ins and outs of marketing.  Though he lectures to medical students about the food industry and volunteers at a non-profit, what do his business students learn from him about marketing success?

The article reads:

"'Discover what consumers want to buy and give it to them with both barrels. Sell more, keep your job! How do marketers often translate these ‘rules’ into action on food? Our limbic brains love sugar, fat, salt. . . . So formulate products to deliver these. Perhaps add low-cost ingredients to boost profit margins. Then ‘supersize’ to sell more. . . . And advertise/promote to lock in ‘heavy users.’ Plenty of guilt to go around here!'''

That's reality for you.

Here's a little tidbit that is good to know for any salty junk food addict.  One of the scientists mentioned in the article, Dwight Riskey, was one of a team of scientists at Frito-Lay that discovered that overcoming salt-addiction simply requires refraining from salty food for a period of time.  Your taste buds will find their way back to the right path.  Straight from the article:

"Around that time, the marketing team was joined by Dwight Riskey, an expert on cravings who had been a fellow at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, where he was part of a team of scientists that found that people could beat their salt habits simply by refraining from salty foods long enough for their taste buds to return to a normal level of sensitivity."

Question 9: So back to the calculated science question.  How specific can research get and how much money goes into this?

"Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch."

$30 million to discover things like the chip break-point.  Wow!  They were just not playing any games.

Photo Credit: FritoLay

Okay, sooooooooooooo I had to talk about a little bit the Cheetos too.  My goodness......just check this out:

"To get a better feel for their work, I called on Steven Witherly, a food scientist who wrote a fascinating guide for industry insiders titled, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.” I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. 'This,' Witherly said, 'is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.' He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. 'If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.'"

So that's why it was so hard to put down those Cheetos.  Smh.  You guys (junk food companies) are so wrong for that.

Question 10: Okay, final question, so does any one of these individuals feel bad about their contribution to the skyrocketing increase of processed food consumption?

Thankfully, their is at least some reconciliation to morality.  Some one feels some ounce of regret...well kind of ish:

"If Americans snacked only occasionally, and in small amounts, this would not present the enormous problem that it does. But because so much money and effort has been invested over decades in engineering and then relentlessly selling these products, the effects are seemingly impossible to unwind. More than 30 years have passed since Robert Lin first tangled with Frito-Lay on the imperative of the company to deal with the formulation of its snacks, but as we sat at his dining-room table, sifting through his records, the feelings of regret still played on his face. In his view, three decades had been lost, time that he and a lot of other smart scientists could have spent searching for ways to ease the addiction to salt, sugar and fat. 'I couldn’t do much about it,' he told me. 'I feel so sorry for the public.'"

Photo Credit: StuffPoint

Now this is where it gets pretty bad.  I'm speechless just observing the exploitation.  This quote details the profit-driven mindset of many companies where the focus is profit, profit, profit at all costs.  One of the chief executives at the times was Jeffrey Dunn:

"In an effort to control as much market share as possible, Coke extended its aggressive marketing to especially poor or vulnerable areas of the U.S., like New Orleans — where people were drinking twice as much Coke as the national average — or Rome, Ga., where the per capita intake was nearly three Cokes a day. In Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, the biggest consumers were referred to as 'heavy users.' 'The other model we use was called ‘drinks and drinkers,’' Dunn said. "How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.""

And even worse:

"In his capacity, Dunn was making frequent trips to Brazil, where the company had recently begun a push to increase consumption of Coke among the many Brazilians living in favelas. The company’s strategy was to repackage Coke into smaller, more affordable 6.7-ounce bottles, just 20 cents each. Coke was not alone in seeing Brazil as a potential boon; Nestlé began deploying battalions of women to travel poor neighborhoods, hawking American-style processed foods door to door. But Coke was Dunn’s concern, and on one trip, as he walked through one of the impoverished areas, he had an epiphany. 'A voice in my head says, 'These people need a lot of things, but they don’t need a Coke.’ I almost threw up.'"

The article ends on a less negative note, however, as it describes the same Jeffrey Dunn, after leaving Coke, attempting to sell a pitch for marketing fresh baby carrots successfully.  His efforts appear successful.  The last thing he describes is what I would imagine as food-industry Aikido (a "use your energy against you " type of martial arts) and if it can be successfully employed for all healthy food........Krav Maga as it would over time quite literally incapacitate the processed food industry.  People have the power to do that:

'We act like a snack, not a vegetable,' he told the investors. 'We exploit the rules of junk food to fuel the baby-carrot conversation. We are pro-junk-food behavior but anti-junk-food establishment.'

Not that pro-junk behavior is good at all because it is characteristic of overeating, lack of self-control and other not so good things but getting people addicted to good, healthy food is sooo necessary right now and for the future.

I will leave you with the last paragraph before I end.  It's quite telling.

"The investors were thinking only about sales. They had already bought one of the two biggest farm producers of baby carrots in the country, and they’d hired Dunn to run the whole operation. Now, after his pitch, they were relieved. Dunn had figured out that using the industry’s own marketing ploys would work better than anything else. He drew from the bag of tricks that he mastered in his 20 years at Coca-Cola, where he learned one of the most critical rules in processed food: The selling of food matters as much as the food itself."

I must get my hands on the book from which this article was originally adapted.  Definite summer reading!  Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, a Pulitzer Prize Winner.  Get on it too, my people!  :)

Thank you for reading!  My people, I appreciate you all so much.  Be happy and healthy.  Ciao!

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