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Candy, Colors and Canvassing

October 24, 2013

Petitioning a company to change their products feels like an incredible waste of time. Companies make stuff. Consumers either buy it or they don’t. If lots of people buy it, the company does well. If fewer consumers buy it, the company suffers.

It’s a pretty easy formula.

The good news is that there are lots of companies out there making stuff. So if you don’t like one company’s stuff, you can buy the stuff you like better that’s made by a different company.

Honestly, I’m not sure what has happened recently that has changed this fairly simple relationship between buyer and seller. Maybe it’s an increasing sense of entitlement that consumers think everything should be customized to their every whim. Maybe it’s the result of a 24 hour news cycle that has networks chomping at the bit for any David vs. Goliath story where David is some photogenic mother and Goliath is some evil corporate suit behind a boardroom table. But it’s also possible that people are just getting fed up with all the swill that corporate America seems intent to pass off as food (with the implicit consent of government “regulators”).

A few months ago, The Food Babe made national news by launching a petition aimed at Kraft to take the yellow dye #5 out of their junk in a box. And now a similar campaign is being waged against M&M’s based on a similar complaint.

As dumb as this may sound, I think it just might be effective. Hear me out.

I know Kraft Mac and Cheese is junk food. Even so, I used to keep a few boxes around the house. Partially these were a guilty pleasure, but they also played a role as “emergency dinner” on those rare evenings when I just needed to feed the kids and cooking real food was out of the question.

The Food Babe’s campaign didn’t tell me anything new. But it did make me think a little bit more about the issue. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I got.

Here’s the nut. Kraft makes a better product using more expensive natural colors (and non-GMO ingredients) for the European market. But despite health concerns abroad, in the U.S. Kraft markets a version full of lower quality ingredients, simply because they can.

And certainly, it’s their right to do so.

Just like it was my right, after being an intensely brand-loyal Kraft Mac & Cheese user for almost forty years, to abandon this treat from childhood in favor of a naturally colored equivalent from Trader Joe’s.

One thing that I learned from my time in consumer brand marketing is that for large national brands, even minor shifts in consumer behavior can add up to big changes in a product’s sales. Don’t forget that these same brand spend literally millions of dollars every year on consumer marketing to gain just a few percentage points of market share.

So maybe no manufacturer will bend to the will of a consumer-based petition to change their formulation. That’s understandable. One cannot run a business that way.

But if even five percent of you who would have otherwise bought M&M’s to give out to kids this Halloween decide to buy Reese’s peanut butter cups instead, the brand manager is going to notice.

Yes, it feels really dumb to sign a petition like this. But I did it. I don’t regret doing it. And I think that you should do it too. Not because it will convince the corporate suits to change their ways. You should do it because signing this petition will help bring attention to the fact that despite knowing of health concerns elsewhere in the world, the makers of M&M’s are content to sell a version of the product chock full of artificial colors to American consumers.

Personally, I find it insulting.

I’ve never been a huge M&M eater, but I’ve occasionally bought a bag here and there. That stops today. Well, unless I come across an imported version of them. Maybe like Mexican Coke we’ll start seeing Canadian M&Ms.

Or maybe not. Turns out things seem to be even worse up there. Get on the ball Canada. Maybe it’s time to put in a phone call to the Queen.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2013 11:23 am

    It annoys me to no end when we get screwed on the good food. I’m still annoyed that Cadbury Whole Nut bars in Europe are delicious hazelnut bars, while the nut bars sold under that label in the U.S. are just almond bars.

    • enough already! permalink
      December 21, 2013 12:46 am

      Never mind the nuts…the chocolate is different, I believe.

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