5 Sleek Marketing Ploys Aimed at Getting More of Your Grocery Money

By Linsey Knerl on 29 February 2008 (Updated 30 June 2009) 17 comments
Photo: Andy Melton

The cost of food isn’t going down, and for some, it is 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 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 at an equal 100 calories on my own and toss them in a reusable Ziploc bag, thus saving money and the 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 in the recent rash of breast cancer promotions by my favorite brands. Pink soup cans, pink appliances, and pink M&M’s 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 breast 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 the Susan G. Komen fund, many companies have managed to sell plenty of stale merchandise at quite a premium. For more information on how companies are profiting from these campaigns, visit Think Before You Pink’s website.

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 over your health, and the definitive verdict is that you will only experience benefits if you continue to use them. With a cost of 2-3 times more than their “regular” counterparts, many people can’t make that kind of commitment. The recent lawsuit against Dannon has many experts reminding consumers that yogurt alone isn’t the cure for all digestive ailments. While they won’t be discouraging yogurt use entirely, it is important to remember that there is no miracle cure for your health.

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Additional healthy food trends that will become popular this year include the inclusion of DHA omega-3 into baby food, pomegranate and blueberries into juice, and calcium into 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.” For details on what each label means, both Sauce magazine and the Humane Society of the United States(HSUS) have guides on what each label means. If you’re going to be paying 3 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 get kids a healthy start in their day. While a great idea in theory, it seems 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 over 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 they are going to charge -- and consequently, the more they NEED you to buy it to keep them in their profit zones.

 

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Guest's picture
Margo

Most of these are true, but I stand by Teddy Grahams as one of the best marketing reinventions of humdrum foods ever!

Linsey Knerl's picture

love the Teddy Grahams :)

I just put them into little baggies before giving them to the kids.  They are REAL cheap at the dollar store.  Yum!

Linsey Knerl 

Guest's picture
Julie

Great post Linsey...you nailed a few of the gripes that I've had for some time. I personally despise all the ready-to-go meal kits that you mentioned...come on, are people really so busy they can't make a sandwich?? And all this fancy packaging these meals come in just go into the landfill...Grrrr

Guest's picture

I am a total sucker for the charitable promotion gimmick. I love the idea of skipping the product and just cutting a check directly to the organization. Usually, I thoroughly research a charity before donating, but that research obviously doesn't happen in the soup aisle. Until, reading this...I didn't realize how mindless I was being. Oh...they're good.

Great blog....I look forward to reading more.

I love the math captcha. Is that a plug in?

Guest's picture

but the fact that the pre-packaged "convenient" meals are driving our families away from the quality time at the breakfast/dinner table just drives me nuts.

I personally hate the commercials on TV making it look so fun to just grab a breakfast bar and run out the door to catch the bus! Sometimes people are in a hurry, I understand. Just don't make it an EVERY DAY thing. There's so many conversation moments missed when you avoid mealtimes with your children.

Invest not only in the budget-friendly meals by preparing your own food, but invest in your children by just spending a few more minutes eating with them too!

Guest's picture
martha in mobile

As someone who has had breast cancer, one might assume I am all for pink cans of soup and pink m&ms. Frankly, I feel that exploiting consumers' compassion for victims of disease to sell unrelated products is an all-time low in marketing ploys. As you say, better to cut a check that directly assists a worthy organization--say one that works for cancer prevention, rather than "awareness".

Guest's picture
Guest

The food processing companies add salt, fat, and sugar to make food taste better.

You can save money by taking regular food and adding your own salt, fat and sugar :-)

Guest's picture
Rachel

In general, I do not buy prepackaged foods, so it was interesting to get an update on whats on the market. I followed the link to "Breakfast Breaks." What a rip off! And it doesn't even include raisins or any other preserved fruit. What was really surprising, though, was that they gear the advertising towards high school students. With the portions as small as they are, it looks more appropriate for elementary school students.

However, considering the effort it takes to get most high schoolers out of bed, I'm not surprised that prepackaged breakfast idea.

I think packaging a boiled egg, dried or fresh fruit, a slice or two of banana bread, and something to drink would be better in a lot of ways.

Guest's picture
Guest

As one who has suffered from ulcerative colitis, I was absolutely incredulous when I first saw those ridiculous and misleading Dannon active ads. I was jumping up and down in front of my tv. I'm sorry it took a lawsuit for them to realize how dangerous those claims are but they should've paid someone better to look into that ahead of time. Also the Breast Cancer pink stuff everywhere is also playing on our fears and superstitions to an extent. But for the grace of God...etc...better buy that pink ribbon stuff to ease my guilt for not having done my breast self-exams lately.

Guest's picture
Lucille

I have been trying to wean everyone off of prepackaged food over recent years. For the most part we don't buy convenience food anymore with the exception of the occasional frozen pizza, coke or bag of doritos.

If I bought kids cereal or poptarts they would disappear within a few days of buying them. Even if we locked the extra in the pantry. It was like crack and the kids would do just about anything to sneak more and keep devouring it. This clearly isn't healthy and certainly isn't doing anything for our grocery budget. So I just quit buying both. They got over it. Now when they want a snack or to make their own breakfast they go for fruit, nuts, granola or baked goods if we make them.

As far as convenience food breakfasts. We have the typical problems of trying to get everyone out the door in the morning. My husband was spending over $3 getting a breakfast sandwich at the gas station and who knows what was in it. We started making breakfast sandwiches at home in the morning. Eggs, cheese, english muffin. They get made first thing in the morning and get put in the oven on low. Even if they are running late they can take it with.

Guest's picture
Guest

Both of the things that you mentioned that the kids eat like crack contain HFCS. I have been scouring the net and finding studies that say that HFCS hinders the feeling of fullness and makes you crave it. It also stores in the liver as fat. In fact, people who have eaten "normal" quantities of it have had their livers show up as fatty and appearing to have cirrohsis (spelling) which is the same as a long-term alcoholic.

It is good that you don't buy it...even though many people consider it natural and call it "sugar," it is not. It is poison and completely manufactured. Wretched stuff.

Guest's picture
Jul

I'm beginning to believe that there's probably an inverse relationship between the health claims on a food and the actual healthiness of said food. And fresh produce needs a new PR agent.

Guest's picture
Jim

I wrote 3 articles on grocery stores and how they seperate you and your money.

I used to work for a grocery wholesale and distribution company. They have many ploys to get you to spend more.

Here is the last article. From there you can get to the first two.

Guest's picture
Dana

The one trend out of all of those that I would absolutely encourage people to follow is the infant formula with DHA added. If you are going to forego breastfeeding, PLEASE get a formula with DHA. The last few years are the first time ever that a formula company has added this vital nutrient to their products and it is a necessary nutrient for infant brain development. This is a front-end investment that will pay dividends in better mental and emotional health for your child later.

The rest of 'em, I can take or leave. Especially the "digestive health" yogurt. Hello, regular yogurt is good for digestive health too!

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for your comment.  I would agree that this is one area that would be beneficial to follow, even if you aren't absolutely certain of it.  Most infant formulas (even store brand) now offer it in their standard formulations.  In the next year or two it will be difficult to buy formula without it added.

 

Guest's picture
Guest

That last post was in reply to Lucille