retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In Sunday's New York Times Magazine, available online now, there is an extraordinary story about how certain kinds of food are engineered to be addictive by companies that know that their success depends on their continued and growing sales.

And in one of the most interesting revelations in the piece, they also seem to know better ... since in April 1999, executives from Nestlé, Kraft and Nabisco, General Mills and Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Mars gathered at Pillsbury headquarters in Minneapolis for a presentation by that company's executives on why they needed to embrace the nation's obesity challenge, and even a suggestion that "the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”

The facts, as presented by Pillsbury's executives, were essentially ignored ... and now, 14 years later, the scenario that was predicted then has become reality.

An excerpt from the piece, written by Michael Moss:

"The public and the food companies have known for decades now — or at the very least since this meeting — 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.

"I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns."

It is a fascinating story ... and worth reading here ... because it suggests not just responsibility but potential culpability. Which are, of course, not the same thing.
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