In the last several years I’ve begun shopping at my local natural food co-op, because I want someone to navigate the increasingly shoal-infested waters of understanding food chemicals and what might or might not be good for me. The PCC Natural Markets is wonderfully informative and activist on issues relating to packaging, genetically modified foods, organics and dairy methods among many other issues. In the last year they’ve taken on High Fructose Corn Syrup (HCFS) – an ingredient more and more correlated with, though perhaps not yet proven to be causing of, poor nutritional health. About two years ago I myself decided to use this ingredient as an indicator of food I didn’t want to be eating and have nearly eliminated it (and therefore many surprisingly ordinary products, like ketchup) from my diet. Over the last year PCC worked with many of their suppliers to eliminate the ingredient from their stores. Some suppliers reformulated, some products were dropped.
In the January 2008 newsletter the PCC appropriately trumpets this accomplishment, but notes that one challenge is that some companies have simply switched from listing HFCS in their ingredient labels to instead calling it “glucose fructose syrup”. I have noticed previously that Gatorade is one such product, and I confess I was a bit suspicious when I saw it. A quick websurf reveals that “glucose fructose syurp” is what the UK calls HFCS. This is interesting to me. Clearly, the message has gotten through that customers don’t like to see HFCS on product labels because at least Gatorade, owned by PepsiCo since 2001, has made an effort to disguise it. That kind of deliberate deception is simply nauseating to me. If they know customers don’t like it, they should formulate away from it. To meet the market’s taste and cost considerations but dissemble about how (because customers might actually use that in their purchasing decisions, even if you disagree about their reasoning) is evil.
This reminds me of something that has long irritated me about business advertising. Look at any corporate TV advertising for business systems: Microsoft, HP, you name it. You’ll see a racial rainbow of shiny workers in whatever office they’re gleefully employing the product in. Obviously at least the marketing department has figured out that diversity and equity are values that mean something to their target audience. Human Resources probably knows it too, but damned if corporate leadership does because those TV ads are nothing like reality.
In B-school it was interesting to take marketing as someone who has always been outside the field – they almost convinced me that marketing really is the core of business. Unfortunately these examples show where marketing gets its bad reputation: the marketers seem to know what’s right – but apparently all they can do is talk about it. It’s a problem that they do, even though they can’t seem to make it happen.