Clever marketing creates sugar cravings

4 Jan

While standing in the supermarket queue this past weekend, I noticed a young couple with a little girl of more or less two years old. While we are moving slowly to the pay points along the aisle packed with all kinds of goodies, I cynically try to see some sales logic in the way the shelves are arranged. At the entrance of the queuing aisle, the less expensive, bigger packs of chocolates can be found; then you have chewy sweets like Jelly Babies; followed by the more expensive dark chocolates and nougat; and finally, just before you reach the cashier, all the healthy items are displayed. Everything is packed on the eye level of children sitting in the shopping cart. This is clever, really clever.

The little girl in front of me, confronted by all these delectable goodies, reached out to take some. Mom reacted by a light slap on the hand, followed by a “no”. The slap could not have been hard because the little girl didn’t cry or flinch. Instead, she tried the next weapon in her armoury: she looked with pleading, innocent eyes into the eyes of her parents. I was impressed both with her tactics but also by the calm way she was handled by her parents. I probably wouldn’t have used the slap, but the rest was pretty efficient.

When my own children were small, sweets and chocolates were kept behind a counter. The concept of someone else’s property is still very vague in the mind of a two-year-old. The true culprit in this case is the shop designer, who only focuses on selling a product. One of the problems in our market-driven society is that young children are specifically targeted in advertisements and in product displays. Manufacturers need to create a market that will be sustainable over a longer period. What better market than young children? Creating a need and then planting the seed that this need can be satisfied by product XYZ, is the ultimate prize for the marketer.

We can take a look at breakfast cereals as a perfect example of how marketers are influencing our own and our children’s choices. Most parents know that eating a good, nutritious breakfast is very important to sustain children’s energy levels through the first half of the day. Most mothers also do not have time to prepare a warm bowl of oats or an egg for breakfast, before dropping children off at school and rushing to work. Most of us rely on packaged cereals. Manufacturers are supposed to list ingredients on the boxes starting with the ingredient with the highest content percentage. But, to quote the Nutrition Source article from Harvard University: the ingredient list on your package is (like) a map. But like an old pirate map, some ingredient lists are designed to confuse …

The Time Magazine (December 18, 2011) states that healthier cereals have:

  • A short ingredient list
  • Lots of fibre
  • Few or no added sugars
  • Higher grocery-store shelf placement, above eye level for most youngsters

Of course children are not interested in the nutrition count of the cereal and manufacturers know that. They make cereals colourful with interesting shapes. They include toys and interesting pictures on the box. Like fast food outlets, their extras are much more important than the food. And the end result? Children are hooked on sugar for life.

I am not advocating a ban on all sugar for children. The result of a sugar ban will likely produce children who will develop a craving for sugar! However, feeding children cereal with high sugar content is not only unhealthy, but almost unethical. I almost want to go into a conspiracy theory thinking mode, wondering if there is a long-term objective that we do not see?

What should we do? An excellent start is to read the content list on the cereal box. We also have to become good consumers and take manufacturers to task. After all, the best way to force manufacturers to make a change is refuse to buy their product, and to call the consumer helpline and tell them why we are not buying their product.

As a closing thought, look at the following frightening facts about sugar content. Most of the cereals listed in the article published by the Harvard School of Public Health range between 17% and a whopping 40% (by weight) sugar content. Only one of the cereals tested had a sugar content of less than 5%. This would mean that the “healthy” breakfast is designed to create a sugar high immediately and a sugar craving at about recess time? Or am I too simplistic and suspicious?

The Nutrition Source: Breakfast Cereal Sugar Content List.

The Nutrition Source: Finding Sugar in Cereals takes detective work

Time Magazine. December 2011. Stop the A.M. Sugar rush Page 15

Photo credit: StarsApart – http://www.flickr.com/photos/meginsanity/6005197221/

 

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