In his book "In Defense of Food: the Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating" (2008), Michael Pollan warns us: "Avoid food products containing ingredients That are a) Unfamiliar b) unpronounceable c) more than 5 in number, or that include d) high-fructose corn syrup". Marketers of several brands have taken it literally. Here are three examples:
Häagen-Dasz launched a new range of ice cream, "FIVE" in 2009: "All-natural ice cream crafted with only five ingredients for incredibly clean, balanced flavour and ... Surprisingly less fat!". A huge success, it already represents approximately 10% of sales of the brand.
Let's look more closely at the nutrition claims for this range of ice cream.
- The first point is clear: the five ingredients are presented on the front of the pack - and not in an incomprehensible table on the back of the packaging.
- The nine varieties are mono-products (vanilla, caramel, lemon, mint, etc.). The brand has therefore taken precautions against introducing complexes combinations such as "Banana Split" or "Caramel Cone", which contain up to 17 ingredients, some "unpronounceable" and including "corn syrup".
- Four of the varieties are actually a reformulation of the traditional range of the ice-cream brand (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee) – already made from ... 5 ingredients!
- The essential difference lies in the efforts made on the fat content - hence the calorie content - of the ice cream. The vanilla ice cream therefore was brought down from 290 to 220 calories, and total fat content from 27% to 17%.
Frito Lay calls attention to its Classic Potato Chips - by advertising the fact that they are composed of just "three simple ingredients: potatoes, natural oil and a pinch of salt" ... one can even enter a code found on the packaging on their website and identify the producer of the potatoes.
Pillsbury offers a new range of cookie dough 'Simply' - using "recognizable" ingredients and the manufacturing process "just like home-cooking".
What can we learn from these recent examples (there are others such as Starbucks, Campbell, Kraft ...)?
- The health debate has become so widespread in the U.S. (and Michael Pollan has a lot to do with it) that brands have begun to reformulate their products by eliminating a large number of "risky" ingredients - or by significantly reducing the levels of sugar or salt.
- However, this debate has not yet addressed the question of what is meant by "sugar" or "powdered milk": What kind of sugar is used (white or brown)? Do manufacturing process of powdered milk have an impact? What effect does it have on health?
- Speaking here of "simplicity" - as do many commentators (including Mintel) – to me seems inadequate: Of course the consumer is currently in cognition overload and wishes for simplification of the offer. But, in this case it is quite a different issue: Consumers want the 'risky', ingredients to be removed, in order to preserve their health.
- New brands are appearing – whose positioning is that of a respect for nutritional balance.
Among them are Innocent, Michel & Augustin, and also Moobella: the company that is installing, in New England, ice cream making machines (offering its consumers the possibility of creating their own ice cream: "Your variety of ice in 40 seconds") from natural ingredients and with less fat content than ... Häagen-Dasz!
To conclude, I suggest you watch the reaction of Michael Pollan himself to this new approach in brand marketing: