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The Cost of Values

March 20, 2014

To avoid confusion let’s get one thing out of the way. Today’s post is not about the ratio of price to quality. Yes, that kind of value is important to me and a critical part to how I think about food and its evaluation.

But there are other values that are equally important. Integrity is a big one.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit in the wake of my back and forth with Chipotle on the issue of its soda fountains. The brand values its integrity. And it does have an amazing track record of improving its food, creating a market for more sustainably raised meats, and bringing more and more local and regional farms into its system.

Values can be an important tool to help anyone chart a desired path. However, I would argue that one’s true values only reveal themselves after they’ve been tested. When values come at a cost, then they prove to be truly values and not merely goals.

Would pulling out the soda fountains at Chipotle come at a financial risk? Surely. But I want to share the story of a different brand that is losing plenty of customers to do what they think is right.

Have you seen this ad? As of last night, it’s just shy of 2MM views on YouTube. It’s thirty seconds, and the damn thing is embedded on the blog, so just click it and I’ll wait.

When you get a chance, take a look at some of the YouTube comments. Sure, this ad will win Honey Maid some new business, but it also has alienated a loud segment of shoppers.

I’m a realist. Nobody makes these decisions without running the numbers and making sure it will make financial sense in the end. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a loss of sales. I can imagine that some small grocers in socially conservative towns will stop even putting these graham crackers on the shelf.

Ads like this might be effective, but they absolutely come at a cost.

You want to hear the funny part? I’m completely on board with “This is wholesome” when showing the diversity of families that make up Honey Maid’s consumer base. Their graham crackers though, are a different story.

Unbleached enriched flour [wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid], Graham flour (whole grain wheat flour), sugar, soybean oil, honey, leavening (baking soda and/or calcium phosphate), salt, soy lecithin, and artificial flavor.

I would never buy these. Let me rephrase that. Ordinarily, I would never buy these. But you know what? Next time I’m tasked with supplying graham crackers for a school event or my mother-in-law wants me to pick up a box so the kids can make s’mores on the farm, Honey Maid will be the box I reach for first.

The junk that’s in there isn’t going to give you cancer or destroy the planet. It won’t make your kids obese or kill the last of the honeybees. I can’t quite call it wholesome. They are cheap ingredients that trade on a heritage of health to bolster a company’s bottom line.

But if those profits are in part going to spread a message of love and support to families of all stripes, I can buy a box of these cookies (that are cleverly disguised as “nutritious” crackers).

What that says about my own values, I don’t know. We’ll have to tackle that some other time.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2014 1:35 pm

    I don’t believe for a minute that Nabisco is liberal and believes in diversity and family and love. I believe they want to sell me a box of cookies. Political trends in the U.S. indicate that the values they are projecting in their ad match what is happening in this country in terms of accepting what makes a family. Not much of a business risk if you ask me.

  2. March 22, 2014 7:59 am

    I don’t think this is nuts. When I can’t put my dollars locally, I try to put my dollars in places that match my values. It doesn’t always line up perfectly (running shoes come to mind, ugh, the ethical burden of sweatshops vs. not wanting to get injured wearing the wrong sneakers … the struggle is real, I tell you), but I try to shop my values. And, yes, they are a corporation that in the end wants to make money, but this tells me their profits aren’t likely going to the Koch Brothers, so that’s important to me.

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