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5 sleek marketing ploys aimed at your grocery money

Many of these tactics prey on our desire to do good.

By Karen Datko Oct 26, 2009 1:46AM

This post comes from Linsey Knerl at partner blog Wise Bread.

The cost of food isn't going down, and for some, it's making the task of feeding a family more painful than ever. It doesn't help that ad agencies and PR companies are getting better at creating snazzy gimmicks to get you to buy.

Instead of providing you with better food at larger quantities, some of them are selling slicker packaging and empty promises. Here's a look at some of the biggest marketing myths designed to keep you spending.

Pre-portioned food is for the weak. I'll admit that it is very tempting to snag one of those 100-calorie snack packs that go on sale frequently at my grocer. Individually wrapped portions keep us in line by making sure we don't overindulge in cookies, crackers or chips.

Seriously, folks, who are we kidding? If you look at how much they are charging per portion, it is insanely overpriced. I could easily dole out 13 crackers on my own and toss them in a reusable Ziploc bag, thus saving money and damage to the environment. What about the health benefits of watching your portions? If your penchant to overeat is so easily restrained by the workings of a flimsy cellophane bag marked "100 calories," then you are a better person that I am.

Soup for the cure. Any company that works alongside an honorable charity has my full support. However, I would like to clarify that I have been disappointed by the recent rash of *** cancer promotions by my favorite brands. Pink soup cans, pink appliances and pink M&Ms have me a little overwhelmed and confused.

Are we expected to pay more for these premium brands simply because of a promise that a tiny percentage of the purchase price will go to *** cancer research? Personally, I would rather use a coupon or buy the store-brand mushroom soup, and write out a nice $15 check to the charity of my choice. I get more groceries for my money, and it's tax-deductible. By exploiting a relationship with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, many companies have managed to sell plenty of merchandise at quite a premium. For more information on how companies are profiting from these campaigns, visit Think Before You Pink's Web site.

It's all for your health. Remember when yogurt was just yogurt? Now you have yogurt "for digestive health" and yogurt for "immune defense." There is a growing debate over how much influence these new products will have on your health, and the definitive verdict is that you will experience benefits only if you continue to use them. With a cost of two to three times more than their "regular" counterparts, many people can't make that kind of commitment. A recent lawsuit against Dannon has many experts reminding consumers that yogurt alone isn't the cure for all digestive ailments. It's important to remember that there is no miracle cure for your health.

Among additional healthy-food trends that will become popular this year are the inclusion of DHA omega-3 in baby food, pomegranate and blueberries in juice, and calcium in hot cocoa. Many of these foods can be viewed as "new and improved." Others are just exploiting the same benefits they (and other brands) have always offered.

Remember our animal friends. As consumers demand to know exactly where their food is coming from, meats, eggs and dairy will hold a new spotlight. Food from "humane" sources are in high demand, and with that comes a higher price. Consumers need to have an understanding of how standards are applied, however, before they can assume that pricier foods will meet their ethical standards. Eggs, for example, can carry the label "cage-free," "free-range" or "certified organic" and still not be "certified humane."

Both Sauce magazine and the Humane Society of the United States have guides on what each label means. If you're going to be paying three times more for that egg, it's good to know if it will actually meet your standards.

It's all included. Really? New breakfast kits, lunch kits and snack packs are hitting store shelves every week. Some of them include everything you need for a healthy meal (or so it seems). In addition to being calorie-rich and preservative-laden, many of them are also missing some key components. These Breakfast Breaks from General Mills are an attempt to give kids a healthy start to their day. While it's a great idea in theory, it's disappointing that parents can't even get it together enough to pour a bowl of cold cereal and throw down a glass of juice for Junior. And did anyone else notice that this "complete breakfast" is missing the milk? (I won't even address the horrendous amount of packaging this product comes in.)

As marketing companies struggle to come up with new ways to sell you the same food, be aware of trends that become widespread over several brands. With markups at more than 200% of the cheapest brands, it may be wise to do a little additional research before succumbing to the temptation to buy. Generally speaking, the more advertising money a company has thrown at a new product, the more it is going to charge -- and consequently, the more they need you to buy it to keep them in their profit zones.

Other articles of interest by Linsey Knerl:

Published April 24, 2008


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