Junk Food Science: Creating a Tasty Result

Learning about how corporations create junk food is not for the faint of heart and a recent book excerpt in The New York Times Magazine is no exception. In this eye-opening look, author Michael Moss details the role that salt, sugar and fat play in processed food.

As many of us know first hand, humans are predisposed to enjoy these 3 ingredients. Armed with this knowledge, research teams go to work creating our favorite food products.

According to Moss, there is “the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more.” However, if your brain tells you to stop eating, that’s what you’ll do. As a result, junk food tends to avoid creating distinct flavors so that we keep eating.

In fact as Moss continues, “The biggest hits – be they Coca-Cola or Doritos – owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.”

This range, known as the “bliss point” allows people to eat and drink without decreasing their enjoyment, which helps maximize consumption. Although this systematic approach by the industry might not be common knowledge in most households, consumers are far from innocent bystanders.

As Geoffrey Bible, a former corporate CEO points out, “People could point to these things and say, ‘They’ve got too much sugar, they’ve got too much salt.’ Well, that’s what the consumer wants, and we’re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That’s what they want. If we give them less, they’ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you’re sort of trapped.”

The Other Half of the Equation

This comprehensive strategy is not limited solely to the scientific research that goes into product development. Identifying and engaging the consumers who matter most is also a critical component.

25 years ago, when Oscar Meyer was looking for a way to jump-start sluggish bologna sales, they found that making lunch was a stressful experience for working moms.  This research resulted in the creation of Lunchables. Mom’s had less stress each morning and Oscar Meyer jump started bologna sales. Now with more than 60 varieties on the market, Lunchables is closing in on $1 billion in annual sales.

Meanwhile over at Coke, according to Jeffrey Dunn, the former president and COO for North and South America, “the biggest consumers were referred to as “heavy users.” “The other model we use was called ‘drinks and drinkers,’ ” Dunn said. “How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.”

Dunn, who is now involved in the marketing of baby carrots, which are at the other end of the food spectrum from soda, is using the same formula, by “acting like a snack not a vegetable.” From this insight was born the campaign, “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food,” which highlights, “one of the most critical rules in processed food: The selling of food matters as much as the food itself.”

If you have a well programmed radio station that is not generating the necessary numbers, we can help. For current availability and more information on how we identify and engage the ‘heavy users’ who matter most to your ratings and revenue, please contact Andrew Curran, COO at DMR/Interactive.


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