The goal of marketers in the food- and beverages industry is to make their products as attractive as possible for consumers. Sometimes consumers are being fooled with what manufacturers tell them about their own products. Since the products have to be liked by potential buyers, marketers tend to emphasize product characteristics such as healthy, low fat, low/no sugar and more. However, in many cases the picture painted by marketers is not a reflection of reality.
There are several laws in Holland that forbid marketers do not tell absolute lies on their product packages. These lies can be understood as saying there is no sugar in a product but there actually is sugar in the product. Therefore, marketers are making an art out of finding ways around telling lies. They are trying to find phrases that raise a certain impression of a product without being too concrete and thus telling lies. Examples of this can be: ‘New recipe, less sugar!’ where the misleading part is that they only reduced the sugar input by 1% but added 10% of artificial sweeteners. What happens to many consumers when they read the packaging is that they are led to believe that the product contains less sugar and is therefore healthier, whilst the exact opposite is true.
Marketers have fooled consumers for years, so why are we making a big deal of this now? Because one of the biggest health threats in western countries is overweight. I will not go into detail why this is a big threat and should be countered, but will elaborate on why marketers are partly responsible for this. The majority of the consumers rely on nutritional information seen in commercials or on the packaging of food and drinks. The problem arising, you can probably guess by now, is that marketers are misleading them. Resulting in consumers believing their diet contains healthy nutrition while they are only damaging their health even more.
The international organisation Foodwatch is an organisation that strives to ensure that consumers are being informed thoroughly and honestly about the food and drinks they consume. Their Dutch organisation hosts a competition each year for the “most falsely advertised food product or beverage”. The award given to the winner is called “Het Gouden Windei”. The motivation for hosting this competition is to get back at marketers after being fooled as a consumer with false food advertising throughout the year. One of this year best-known contender was the Drinking Yoghurt flavoured with walnuts, honey and yogurt from dairy brand Optimel which did not contain any of these ingredients.
What I noticed when I was looking into this subject was that there is a tradeoff between marketing a product as attractive as possible and informing consumers as clear and honest as possible. Consumers are prone to being misinformed and this can have serious consequences in some cases. Therefore, the hope is that organisations like FoodWatch become more known and their message spreads widely. The ultimate end goal would be to have completely honest packaging and marketing but that is probably still a bridge too far right now. A more reasonable goal is to increase consumer consciousness that they should critically read packages and beware of the motivation of marketers.