Marketers like Starbucks discover that simple sells

Posted on October 28, 2009 by


In a USA TODAY article by Bruce Horovitz, Simple is better.

This could be 2010’s most powerful marketing mantra.

If 2009’s hottest sales pitch was all about buying stuff on the cheap, 2010 marketing will increasingly stress less as more, as in fewer parts, additives or ingredients. Nowhere is it more apparent than with things we eat and drink.

This may be more marketing magic than reality. How can a product made by Kraft, Campbell’s or Dreyer’s be made to sound as simply healthy as something made fresh in your kitchen? “One way to spin this is talk about how few ingredients your product contains,” says Tom Vierhile, product analyst at researcher Datamonitor.

Consumers these days not only want to know what’s in the stuff they eat and drink — they want to know what’s not.

In a nation bedeviled by a whirlwind of food scares and mounting worries about the healthiness of a plethora of things commonly used in processed foods, folks are demanding cleaner food labels: no artificial food colorings, no chemical additives (such as MSG) and no chemical preservatives (such as BHA). If they can’t pronounce it, consumers don’t want it.

The new marketing code word being used to boast about fewer ingredients: simple.

At its simplest, simple sells.

“The food business has always been ingenious at turning any criticism into a new way to sell food to us,” says Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. The best-selling book popularized the notion of buying only foods with five or fewer ingredients. “As soon as you stress fewer ingredients, you’re implying that the food is healthy.”

From the marketers’ kitchen

Few are talking louder about simplifying ingredients than Häagen-Dazs. But its red-hot Five ice cream line did not come from a breakthrough in its new product lab. Five was born in the marketing department of parent company Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream.

The line rolled out in March with seven flavors. The marketing campaign included an online chat asking folks about the five most essential things they want to do in their lives. The response was so strong that it crashed the servers at Dreyer’s within two hours.

Starbucks. Five years ago, consumers started asking Starbucks for healthier foods. Its banana bread, for example, had been made with 15 ingredients. But food scientists have slimmed that to 10. One way: Stop using banana flavoring.

When the revamped food line was rolled out earlier this year, baristas handed out samples of the new banana bread along with index cards listing the ingredients.

•Kraft. Triscuit cracker brand has embraced the less-is-more trend. What’s in the box: wheat, salt and oil. This year, it began replacing palm oil with healthier soybean oil. And Triscuit marketing and labeling spell out the specific whole-grain wheat: soft white winter wheat.

•Campbell. Select Harvest line limits the number of ingredients — and spells out what each one is. Maltodextrin is found in soups in both its Chunky and Select Harvest lines. For Select Harvest, Campbell provides a simple description of what it is: a carbohydrate from potato or corn starch. It provides no such explanation on Chunky soups.

•Beech-Nut. When Beech-Nut rolled out the Let’s Grow toddler foods late last year, it put a “No Junk” promise on the container and in its marketing. That means no added sugars, modified starches or fillers. “We don’t put in any ingredients that moms might not know what they mean,” he says.

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Posted in: Family safety