Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When candy manufacturers talk about healthy living

Sometimes you can't win.

No matter what product you sell, there is someone in the world who regards your product as pure, utter evil. Not just bad, but evil. Whether you sell tobacco, or Bibles, or steak, or baby formula, or fingerprint identification systems, or tennis shoes, your opponents will argue that your product is evil for some reason or another. And if you try to address the negative reactions to your product, even the way in which you address them will be characterized as evil.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I normally keep a large container of cashews at my desk at work, but when I ran out of cashews one day, I went to the machines in the cafeteria and bought a package of peanut M&Ms. I was looking at the back of the package, and saw that it promoted a website called

My first reaction was to roll my eyes and say to myself, "Yeah, right."

But I figured that I should give the website a try.

I followed the "Staying Healthy" link, and was presented with a number of links to information about exercise, calorie consumption vs. activity, and other topics. I was disappointed, however, to find that the information was surprisingly generic; it could have come from my own health insurance company instead of Mars. I wanted to see a video of the M&Ms leading me in jumping jacks.

I got the same feeling at the "Feeling Good" link, which was populated by material from Dr. Dean Ornish. In case you haven't heard, Dr. Ornish did not receive his PhD in chocolates from Ghiradelli University. Dr. Ornish is a medical doctor that Mars hired for its web page.

Then I went to "Our Commitment." This can be a fearful exercise, because whenever you go to a web page in which a company spouts off platitudes, you know that it was created by a committee, advised by a Senior Platitude Conceptualist. But I did find some content here that was unique to Mars:

We know that our marketing practices need to support our customers' health and nutrition goals. In fact, Mars was the first food company to announce that we would stop advertising to children under 12 in every market where we operate.

I clicked through to the Responsibility page, and read some additional information that wasn't written by a generic Senior Platitude Conceptualist:

To encourage the responsible consumption of Mars products, we have been working to provide versions of our products that provide smaller portions, or allow the products to be shared or consumer over time, rather than in one sitting. We’ve stopped marketing King Size portions of our candy, and now, our larger-portion products are available in Sharing Sizes, multiple pieces or twist-wrap packaging.

Of course, the naysayers can criticize this also. Take a look at this quote from an NPR article on the change:

The 2-ounce Snickers currently sold in our NPR vending machine has 280 calories, and with the downsize it will lose about 11 percent of its size.

Even if Mars lowers the price of the downsized bars by 11 percent (or the appropriate percentage), it still stands to gain, since people wanting their usual candy fix will buy more of the smaller candy bars. And since the smaller products usually have higher unit pricing, this will result in higher profits for Mars.

New York City should remember this as it works to ban the evil large sized soft drinks. Can you imagine how much money a fast food place will make from the teenage guy who buys three 16 oz sodas?

Or perhaps large sodas will exist in the black market. As Phil Hickey put it, If they outlaw big sodas only outlaws will drink big sodas!
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