You will never see an apple in a grocery store with a sticker shouting “I am healthy”. It’s because you don’t need to state the obvious. The flip side of that, is that health claims on food generally appear in a nutrition vacuum. The declarations are usually legalese accompanied by an asterisk or disclaimer. “No fat” usually means a legal definition of “no fat” that is advantageous to the seller. “No sugar added” is another. Lawyers get paid a lot of money to prepare exact wording that skirts realities the seller would rather hide. This only changes when something like an allergy triggers enough lawsuits to either spark the public’s attention, or when said lawsuits may actually outstrip the profits made by the specious claim in the first place. I know. I have spent a lifetime working on packaging.
Legal wording is a fun thing. There is for example a legal definition of death that came from Harvard University. The legal definition bends the truth enough to convince people to donate the organs of their loved ones. After all, are you going to need those eyeballs if you’re dead? Not really, but the LEGAL definition of “dead” actually means “still alive”. If you are really dead, those necrotic organs won’t be much good to anybody. Hence the legal definition. There IS a difference when someone is trying to sell something.
When it comes to food packaging, fads come and go. People for example have been eating yogurt and pickles for thousands of years. There are some benefits to gut flora, but all these things must eventually get pinned to a new word as if a manufacturer just invented something and should be financially compensated. “Probiotic” is one of those claims. Who knew that all that yogurt was probiotic? It’s a word you never heard of before, and, as these things go, new is always good. Until the next claim.
The hundred-mile diet fad also factored into marketing for a while. You might not realize that “bin” fruit and vegetables... things that in times past were preserved in a root cellar, are nowadays stored in enormous underground containers for up to two years. They can be pooled and massed wherever the supply chain has a need. Some packaging sold the idea that what you were getting was local and farm fresh, by putting a picture of a farmer on the back, and a small blurb about the family. What you did not know, was that the lawyers had to cook up some special language so that the seller could not be sued. Why? Because those apples you bought came from a bin. They could have been sourced from anywhere, and they could be up to two years old. The picture on the back that referenced the idea of the hundred-mile diet, was pure marketing.
When retailers run out of ideas, they get to “value added” kind of thinking. They didn’t improve the actual product, but they added value along the way. Compare for example, “washed and chopped” vegetables conveniently ready to go in shrink wrap. Find the actual item and see how much they are charging you to wash and cut up your piece of squash. You might be rightfully shocked and dismayed. Organic is another of those claims, hard to quantify but sounding very good. Who knew that apple grew in real and actual soil? Better charge more. What the general public doesn’t know is that those certification seals which appear with a checkmark of approval, are generally proprietary. The seller himself makes up the seal, to endorse his own product and it looks official enough that nobody will think twice when buying.
The reason these things come to mind is that I ran out to the grocery store this morning to pick up a few items to put a beef stew in the slow cooker for later on. I’m a bit out of practise with the shopping but my wife is away and I am ensuring that three squares a day appear on the table so that I will at some point see my kids out of their rooms and assembled as a family. I am not really sure what things SHOULD cost, but I know that a bag of groceries should not cost that much. There is some bafflegab going on out there that is putting quite a bit of inflation on groceries. We all need to eat. As such, sellers are rubbing their hands together in glee, at the current COVID crisis. It makes me think of those oil magnates and manufacturers who got rich in hard times; Henry Ford, who did a good business with Hitler in the thirties, other barons of industry who took advantage of sky-high prices that were elevated simply because excuses could be made. A climate of fear made people jack the rates, with little justification. Such windfalls are pure profit.
One thing that has really taken off is grocery delivery. You want to avoid the confines of a mask, and the prospect that the lady passing you by with a grocery cart may give you a nasty disease? Simply chunk on some extra in the cost of the groceries, and someone will deliver that bag to your door. The extent to which this is taken for granted in the current climate, shows up with Uber Eats. Not only do you pay a premium on food you could have prepared yourself, you also pay someone to bring it. You can happily sit on the couch watching Netflix and waiting for that doorbell to ring.
Most people have had “that friend” in high school, who would convince you to do outrageous things with plenty of fun excuses. You learned all about the evils of peer pressure when you gave in. You also eventually figured out that guy was not really your friend, he was just out for a bit of entertainment at your expense because you were ripe and gullible. It’s how high school kids eventually grow up, by doing all the dumb things that others peddled and you only learn by getting burned. And so it is, that I am reminded why my groceries are pricy. Is it COVID, or the impact of carbon taxes on delivery? Disrupted supply chains? Extra cost of cleaning? No matter an excuse will be made. I just know that I am paying more for the same stuff, and someone out there is happily padding their bottom line.
My bottom line is that age old truth that if you didn’t know you needed it, you likely didn’t. The other thing is that I know that I came home with a bag of groceries that was three-quarters food and one quarter bullshit. I just know I paid more this year than last, and somebody out there is very, very happy about it.