Last month Californians lost their fight to label GMOs with the defeat of Prop. 37. Thanks in large part to Big Food and Ag companies spending over $46 million on misleading and blatantly false advertising, consumers will remain in the dark about what’s really in their food.
But false and misleading advertising is nothing new to the food biz. As consumers have become more and more interested in simple, real foods, Big Food companies have become even more aggressive in refashioning their highly processed (hush, GMO-ridden) products into pure and pristine gems picked straight from nature’s fields. Nowhere is this advertising trend more evident than in the $10 billion U.S. cereal category where leaders Kellogg’s and General Mills are going head to head to claim the new high ground in food, simplicity. Let’s take a look at both of their advertisements:
Featuring beautiful images of corn fields and happy, healthy friends and family, Kellogg’s goes on to say:
Those who look to fuel body and mind with the simplest of grains, they’re not hard to find.
Just four ingredients, it all starts here, just as it was back 100 years.
From the seed to the spoon. Simple things go into every flake, every bite.
The simple grain cereals from Kellogg’s.
Start simple. Start right.
In comparison, General Mills’ take on simplicity is über simple with the majority of its commercial featuring no words at all—just a morning sunrise shimmering over a field of oats. The ad then ends with Cheerios’ iconic tagline “The one and only Cheerios” and a visual of “Simple.”
Now while Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Cheerios are relatively simple compared to the rest of the cereal category, both of these cereal manufacturers are forgetting something very important—most parents don’t consider products containing GMOs simple. And that reality came crashing down on Cheerios last week when its Facebook app was hijacked and turned against the venerable brand.
Hmmm … looks like hell hath no fury like parents scorned. [To learn more about this PR nightmare read PR Fail: Cheerios GMO Backlash Goes Social and the Wall Street Journal's Marketplace piece, GMO Inside Campaign: Cheerios Facebook Page Flooded By Anti-GMO Comments] And herein lies the problem for Big Food and Ag companies. The genie is out of the bottle. The real food movement is growing and with platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, Big Food doesn’t control the conversation anymore. Undoubtedly these corporations still have enormous power. Prop. 37′s defeat proved that. But consumers refuse to be ignored and have new ways of speaking out.
Given my experience as a former marketing leader on Cheerios’ sibling, Honey Nut Cheerios, many people have asked, “Will Big Food ever change?” Unfortunately, I don’t think it will happen any time soon. Relentless profit pressure from Wall Street drives quarter to quarter thinking that results in the entire industry being woefully short-term oriented and risk adverse. Although we may see occasional brands, like Cheerios, make quiet changes and remove GMOs, widespread change is further off since most of Big Food’s CEOs are relics of a different era—a time when corporations controlled consumers and media like puppet masters. Until the tides of that era fully recede, we will watch “trusted” brands run aground as real consumers demand full transparency and accountability from corporate America.
To make true, enduring change happen we must continue to challenge old thinking and demand more from Big Food. So if you’re committed to taking a stand for GMO labeling, here are some actions you can take to make a difference:
- Vote with your wallet: Support brands and companies that are pro GMO labeling and avoid those that want to keep us in the dark. Here’s a link to a Cornucopia Institute report that can help you navigate these tricky waters.
- Get Active: There are quite a number of organizations you can work with to get involved including Just Label It, Organic Consumer Association’s Millions Against Monsanto, and GMO Inside as well as several more local efforts in Washington state, Oregon, Connecticut, and Vermont.
- Talk about GMOs with your friends and family. Honest, heartfelt conversations regarding our right to know what’s in our food are vital. Here’s a link to my personal talking points about GMO labeling that I adapted from those developed by Millions Against Monsanto & Truth-in-Labeling.
What do you think about Big Food’s actions regarding GMOs? Do companies like Kellogg’s and General Mills’ understand how we feel? And what are you personally doing to advocate for the changes you believe in? Please share your comments below.
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