Peeling back layers of the food culture onion reveals not only a complex web of food logistics, storage, transportation, and distribution paths, but also how different regional groups perceive a food product to be just by reading the label.
One of our many inherited traits is to seek what is familiar. For example, while purchasing food, we quickly scan through expiration dates, calories (if we’re watching our weights), ingredients, and nutritional values. And certain health and wellness startups that have surfaced have tapped into a new approach, which is to highlight what is not present versus list out everything that a product contains. They have discovered that it is easier to catch the consumers’ attention by calling out specifically what the product does not comprise. Instead of educating the masses using evidence-based findings to elucidate the “why,” emotion-based catch words are used to magnify the “what” or lack thereof; such as gluten-free organic water.
Despite validated information being even more accessible today, here’s a glimpse at why science evidently does not sell.
Food labels are designed to influence and not educate. Purchasing food at the grocery stores hardly involve studying ingredients, origins, and substitutions. With limited time on their hands, customers usually scan the exterior packaging to weed out their perception of “harmful products.” Almost every frozen and fresh poultry product in the U.S. proudly declare themselves as free from added hormones, which implies that certain manufacturers may be supplementing their products with it. On the contrary, the regulatory requirements mandate that no hormones are used in poultry products, at any stage of production.
Social media influencers lack the scientific understanding. Provide a popular Instagram influencer with a script, a half-baked food concept, and a generous budget to watch the recipe of a fad unfold with a few clicks. Most digital media promoters tweak marketing campaigns to match what search analytics of common users are telling them.
Consumer knowledge gaps are easier to exploit. The general misconception that increased pricing implies better quality is a rancorous cycle unfortunately. This practice pushes the common consumer to pay premium prices for similar product(s) quality within the market. Knowledge gaps amidst consumers are easier to exploit for this reason.
The hard science needs to be simplified for the general audience. Modern day food science can most certainly do well without the scare tactics; and the gluten-free organic water.