Are CPG Packagers Too Clever for Their Own Good?

March 25, 2010

If CPG product packagers weren’t so relentlessly clever, we might believe them more often.

If CPG product packagers weren’t so relentlessly clever, we might believe them more often. Just as their products use sparkly, fun, cartoonish or character elements on packages to appeal to kids, there is a different mechanism they use to get mom to let her guard down as the protector of household nutrition.

We call this mechanism ‘permission to buy.’ It is a health claim shown prominently on the package, such as “30% daily value of Calcium and Vitamin D” or “Antioxidants” or “25% less sodium.” This graphic element is meant to puncture her mental armor, so in a moment that product could wind up in her cart.

The insidious aspect of this: the sugar, salt or fat content in the product could immensely overshadow that single healthful element. Although all of this would be listed in the nutritional panel, it’s most likely in much smaller type, less prominent and difficult to parse. What mom thinks is a smart choice is often a bad choice.

It’s time to stop playing these games, we say at The Lempert Report. If CPG would apply the same rigorous thinking to the development of honest labeling and healthier product formulations, we would all be better off. We’re realists. We understand this will come slowly, if at all, partly because CPG would need to wean off the less costly (sugar, salt, fat) ingredients at a time CPG can afford few risks (such as brands that would taste different). But we believe the effort can and should be made by committed CPG leaders who could show the way through food science and food communications.

The nation’s First Family has certainly made noise on the food front, in its advocacy of healthier eating. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, in our view, that the Federal government could one day insinuate itself into this issue. Unlike previous top politicians who misspelled the names of vegetables, or declared they didn’t like certain ones, it’s conceivable the basketball-playing Obama might look to pop a three-pointer in the name of healthier packaged foods. 

It’s time to curb the excesses, talk straighter with consumers, and in time develop more healthful food formulas. The industry has that responsibility to all of us. And if this matter draws Federal attention, even the cleverest creators of CPG packages would have to feel that perhaps they weren’t so clever after all.