retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times columnist and blogger this week comes down on McDonald’s new oatmeal offering, writing that “from a marketing perspective, they can do almost nothing wrong; from a nutritional perspective, they can do almost nothing right, as the oatmeal fiasco demonstrates.”

Bittman writes that “in typical McDonald’s fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad (nutritional) choice. (Not only that, they’ve made it more expensive than a double-cheeseburger: $2.38 per serving in New York.) ‘Cream’ (which contains seven ingredients, two of them actual dairy) is automatically added; brown sugar is ostensibly optional, but it’s also added routinely unless a customer specifically requests otherwise. There are also diced apples, dried cranberries and raisins, the least processed of the ingredients (even the oatmeal contains seven ingredients, including ‘natural flavor’).

“A more accurate description than ‘100% natural whole-grain oats,’ ‘plump raisins,’ ‘sweet cranberries’ and ‘crisp fresh apples’ would be ‘oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen’.”

Of course, Bittman doesn’t focus all of his vitriol on McDonald’s:

“Take, for example, Quaker Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal, which contains no strawberries, no cream, 12 times the sugars of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats and only half of the fiber. At least it’s inexpensive, less than 50 cents a packet on average. (A serving of cooked rolled oats will set you back half that at most, plus the cost of condiments; of course, it’ll be much better in every respect.)”

This, of course, is the ultimate irony: “Real oatmeal contains no ingredients; rather, it is an ingredient. As such, it’s a promising lifesaver: oats are easy to grow in almost any non-extreme climate and, minimally processed, they’re profoundly nourishing, inexpensive and ridiculously easy to cook.”
KC's View:
The thing is, there are two things in Bittman’s diatribe that food retailers ought to keep in mind.

One is that unlike McDonald’s, they can offer minimally processed food and can effectively promote it as such. We’re not talking about doing a Whole Foods here ... just talking about the advantages of shopping in a supermarket versus a fast food joint.

But the other is more troublesome, I think. It refers back to a discussion we were having here on MNB a few weeks ago about products that say they contain ingredients that they don;t actually have, like frozen blueberry waffles without any actual blueberries.

Read that like again: “Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal, which contains no strawberries, no cream...”

I am absolutely convinced that this is a litigation and public relations nightmare just waiting to happen. If and when it gets traction, it could have an enormous impact on what the food industry tells its customers, who at the very least expect that a blueberry is a blueberry and a strawberry is a strawberry.