Thursday, December 01, 2005

We are so lucky

Those of us who live in the US that is. New statistic: Citizens of the US use only 11 cents of every dollar for food expenses. Wow. Now remember that is an average not specific to everyone. Of course most food bloggers spend a higher than average amount, and certainly there are other that spend even less!

There's a problem though. Food manufacturers recently met in an annual conference and were stymied over the problem of how to get more healthful food to the consumers, while at the same time, making it profitable, and keeping costs current. That's a big problem. In order to make food more healthful, it's going to cost more. That's a fact. If we don't want added chemicals, or preservatives or a litany of other ingredients (that most of us can't pronounce) we have to give up shelf life. That factor alone adds a huge cost to mass marketers, or what we like to call those big box stores the average American shops in.

We have two choices. Eat more healthy foods and pay more. Or accept what major manufacturers offer and take our chances, but it'll be inexpensive. Two choices? Possibly three. We could become proactive consumers. We've all seen and read about the Slow Food movement. Eat foods locally grown and packaged and be willing to accept that not everything will always be available.

Manufacturers don't know what to do because they process data. To quote a recent article, "In his opening remarks at the Ronald Reagan Center on Tuesday, Hershey Co. President-CEO Rick Lenny said "the rate of change is going to accelerate" as innovation in food technology and biotechnology drive companies closer to the "holy grail" of products that offer convenience, taste and nutrition. But at the same time attendees and speakers acknowledged the difficulties marketers face in trying to profitably develop healthful fare even as the threat of government regulation and the continued rise of obesity-related health-care costs demands that they do so.

"There is always pushback from upper management when we come up with new ideas [for more-healthful foods] because they cost too much and it's difficult to come up with meaningful communication that will help sell them at a higher price," said Lamar Johnson, a veteran food developer who recently left General Mills to join Bush Brothers as director of product development.

Consumers blamed Mr. Johnson, like other industry executives at the meeting, lamented that despite all the hype about health, "the majority of consumers have not grasped what it means to lead a healthier lifestyle, which makes it hard to justify development of healthier products as a profitable endeavor."

Parade magazine confirmed Mr. Johnson's supposition with data from its annual consumer food survey that showed health ranked far below other factors, including price and taste, in purchase decisions. Only 12% of respondents cited nutrition as factor in purchasing food."

We can't rely on mass producers for our health needs or concerns. They are assigned the task of feeding the world. We are responsible for our health. They cannot and will not take on that role. Well, at least for now they won't.