Big Food executives know that eating products like these causes severe health problems, and yet they work hard to make them as irresistible as possible.
Moss fills his book with a host of damning examples. Coke regularly preys on the poor and refers to its most loyal customers — in places like New Orleans and Rome, Ga. — as “heavy users.” In Brazil, the company wins over new customers in impoverished favelas by repackaging its sugary beverage into smaller, 20-cent¢ servings. Most of us know that Coke and Frosted Flakes contain unhealthy amounts of sugar. But Moss reveals that, eager to increase sales, companies are lacing once-wholesome foods such as yogurt and spaghetti sauce with astonishing amounts of sugar and sodium. According to Moss, Yoplait contains twice as much sugar per serving as Lucky Charms, and half a cup of Prego Traditional spaghetti sauce has as much sugar as three Oreos (not to mention one-third of the daily salt intake recommended for most Americans).
Every time the public wises up and stops buying an unhealthy product, the industry speedily reacts, launching enticing new products to lure the newly health-conscious consumer back. For instance, in the 1980s, consumers heeded advice from nutritionists to reduce their intake of saturated fat and salt by not buying bologna. In response, Oscar Mayer invented Lunchables, a convenient meal replacement still containing bologna. Cleverly marketed to harried working moms and priced affordably (yet loaded with high levels of saturated fat, sodium and even, in some versions, sugar), Lunchables were — and still are — a huge hit. Convenience, it seems, overrides parents’ health concerns, and companies know this all too well.
In one of the most egregious examples of company misbehavior, Moss describes a 2008 Kellogg’s commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats in which a voice-over claimed, “A clinical study showed kids who had a filling breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved their attentiveness by nearly 20 percent.” In fact, half the children who ate the cereal showed no improvement in attentiveness. But by the time the Federal Trade Commission got around to barring Kellogg’s from making this claim, the commercial had already run for six months.
During four years of reporting, Moss met a handful of prescient executives who tried to steer their companies toward healthier products and more responsible marketing. Jeffrey Dunn, a former president and chief operating officer for Coke, launched Dasani, a bottled-water company, and pushed to stop marketing Coke in public schools. In 2003, senior executives at Kraft took the unprecedented move of publishing the salt, sugar, fat and calorie content for the whole package, instead of the much lower single-serving figure, right on the food’s label. Kraft also stopped advertising unhealthy products to children. But most of these executives ended up quitting in frustration or getting fired for their unconventional views. Dunn, for example, now uses his marketing acumen to sell baby carrots.