One day about 60 years ago, comedian Bert Lahr dressed up as a devil, held up a French fry, and uttered a sentence that would become a milestone in food marketing: “I bet you can’t eat just one.

Positioning food as deliciously addictive, as Lay’s did in its clever television commercial, became advertising gold. In the following decades, Airing and frozen waffles (“L’eggo my Eggo!”) were portrayed as so irresistible that people fought over them. A popular stoner movie.”Harold and Kumar go to the White Castle”, tells the obsessions of two friends with fast food sandwiches.

The craving became such a selling point that Kellogg’s went all out and called a chocolate-filled cereal Krave. High-end chefs were not immune. Christina Tosi, known for her hypersweet desserts milk bar stores, one of which he called Crack Pie.

But now we are in the Ozempic era. A class of new medications that eliminate food cravings as well as a fresh body of scientific studies, have focused attention on the connection between addiction and food. Ultra-processed foods, made with cheap and industrial ingredients potentially as addictive as tobacco or gamblingare becoming a national concern.

What should a food marketer do? Some who work or study the nation $1 trillion food industry He describes the moment as little more than an obstacle. Food companies are agile when it comes to surfing cultural waves and finding new ways to keep customers reaching for another fix.

Others say it’s a defining moment in the way Americans eat and will change the way companies sell food.

“It’s an existential threat to the food industry and certainly an existential threat to the processed food industry,” he said. Marion Nestle, professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University who has written extensively on food science and policy. “You have all these things coming together in a way that they’ve never come together before.”

In the 1960s, when Lay’s challenged the nation to resist, “it didn’t occur to anyone that wanting more fries might be bad,” said Steve Siegelman, executive creative director at the marketing firm Ketchum, which has worked with the company. beef. industry, Kikkoman and Häagen-Dazs.

Seeing foods as irresistible or appealing has already begun to fall out of favor, he said, but it remains perfectly acceptable as a business-to-business tactic. Hidden Valley Ranch, for example, uses the motto “Give them the cup they crave” in their advertisements in restaurant trade publications.

Simple overuse has begun to undermine the marketing power of appetite, he said. Mike Kostyo, vice president of food industry consulting firm Menu Matters, whose clients include brands such as Dunkin’ and Del Monte Foods. But as an underlying concept, he said, it’s not going away.

“It’s fundamental to the way we market so many foods,” he said. “All those images of oozing cheese and the sound of crunching.”

Kostyo said several customers have asked him how concerned they should be about the huge popularity of drugs like semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy) and tirzepatide (in Mounjaro), which people credit for silencing the which they describe as “food noise.” ”, or constant thoughts about eating. He tells them it’s too early to tell.

If selling the addictive nature of a snack stops working, he said, the industry will find something else that will.

Food companies faced a similar challenge in the early 1990s, when fat was considered the demon of the diet. They responded with products like Well’s Snack, a line of fat- and cholesterol-free cookies that was so popular it was often in short supply. Baked Lay’s, with fewer calories and less fat than the original, mounted a $50 million advertising campaign featuring supermodels fishing either playing poker. The motto: “You can eat like boys, but still look like a girl.” The commercials ended, of course, with Lay’s time-tested catchphrase.

Michael Moss, a former New York Times reporter who has written two books explaining how some food companies use science, marketing and political influence to hook consumers on their products, doesn’t expect drugs like Ozempic to make any difference.

“Making us lose control is part of their business plan,” he said of the processed food industry. “I was chatting with an industry lobbyist who said vitamin O scares us as much as Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign” to get kids to eat better and exercise more.

In its recent annual report on the food and beverage industry, market research company Mintel posited that consumer demand for minimally processed foods will grow and suggested that manufacturers focus on the benefits of food processing, such as prolong freshness or promote food safety.

The report also offers a strategy for selling products with no redeeming nutritional value: “Brands that produce highly, excessively or ultra-processed foods and beverages will need to remind consumers of the joy and comfort they get from these products.”

But instead of telling consumers what a product can do for them, many marketers pore over social media to find out what they want, said Caitlin Reynolds, executive vice president at advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi.

“It’s like a spontaneous discussion group that runs 24/7,” he said.

In 2021, Ms. Reynolds led a team that created an award-winning advertising campaign for Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers inspired by the lockdown phase of the pandemic, when people posted about eating the snacks by the handful while working from home. The featured multi-platform campaign Boban Marjanovic, the NBA player with the biggest hands, holding as many cookies as he could.

Although goldfish are a mainstay in homes with young children, the snack has become a best-seller among teenagers who grew up eating them. “Gen Z loves nostalgia,” Reynolds said.

And while brand integrity is important to Gen Zers, according to Menu Matters’ Kostyo, they don’t have the same focus on health as the Millennial generation, with their cereal bowls and nut milks.

“With Generation Z we see a movement away from that,” he said. “They love candy, Taco Bell, and TikTok-style foods.”

Strategies for selling food to Generation Z and its successor, Alpha, whose oldest members are 14, rely less on a message repeated in traditional advertising and more on the skillful use of social media. They also include fun and outrageous collaborations between brands, such as the Nacho Cheese Dorito Flavored Liqueur which the snack giant recently created with Empirical, a company founded by alumni of Copenhagen’s elite Noma restaurant.

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