Monday, March 23, 2015

Healthy foods Vs unhealthy foods-A contrasting marketing landscape

Considering all the factors that have contributed to the progressive deterioration of health among people, the most important is the way food marketing environment is changing every where in the world. Food technology developments are boosting the capability of food processing industry to create foods tailor made to "trap" the consumers, with no concern about their well being. There is a qualitative transformation of the food "environment", that includes food retailing and eating places, where proportion of healthy foods to the total number of products offered to the consumers has been decreasing alarmingly resulting in more and more people sucked into the unhealthy food trap. Added to this the cost difference between healthy foods and junk foods is widening with the former some time costing more than double that of junk foods. Why is this happening? Does the market place play a part in this cost escalation vis-a-vis health foods? Or does the consumer attitude is responsible for this phenomenon? Probably this is a complex issue on which it may be difficult to arrive at a consensus. Here are some observations made by one of the study groups concerned about the deteriorating food environment that may drown this planet in agony and despair soon if some thing drastic is done to arrest the trend.

"Last December, researchers at Harvard published a paper scientifically examining a complaint common among conscientious eaters -- that healthy food is more expensive than junk. That paper, published in British Medical Journal, found that eating a healthy diet costs approximately $1.50 more per day. Today, researchers in the United Kingdom published a study in PLOS ONE that gives yet more insight into this topic: not only is healthy food more costly than unhealthy food but the price gap between them has grown significantly over a 10-year period. The researchers, led by Nicholas Jones from the University of Cambridge, used data from the UK Consumer Price Index to track the cost of 94 foods and beverages from 2002 to 2012. They also used  a technique called "nutrient profiling" to determine which foods might be considered healthy and unhealthy, based on information such as the amount of saturated fat and sugar per 100g. What they found: in 2012, 1000 kcal of "healthy" food cost approximately $12, while 1000 kcal of unhealthy food cost only $4. And while the mean price of all foods rose 35 percent over that 10-year period, the researchers found that "the price of more healthy foods was consistently greater than that of less healthy foods over the period 2002–2012, and that the absolute price gap between healthy and less healthy foods has grown over this period. "Food poverty and the rise of food banks have recently been an issue of public concern in the UK," Jones said in a statement about the research," but as well as making sure people don't go hungry it is vital that that a healthy diet is affordable."

One of the mysteries associated with the working logistics of modern food industry is how it is able to offer foods considered desirable, but not necessarily healthy, at such low prices and still make money? Mass production and bargaining muscle probably enable it to bring down production cost significantly. On the other hand insufficient demand for healthy foods make the manufacture some what less profitable making it a necessity to increase their price. Is it not paradoxical that when awareness about health and its relation to food is rising fast among people creating more and more demand for such foods in the market place, industry is unable to offer such products at prices comparable to that of junk foods? What justification industry can offer in making a whole wheat bread almost 50% costlier than white flour based bread? Technological limitation cannot be trotted out as an excuse because technology is relatively a minor component in the costing exercise. Considering these facts there is an urgent necessity for governments world over to bring in more regulations to compel the industry to manufacture more healthy foods and offer them on par with regular products now being churned out. The situation can become alarming if the present trend is allowed to continue with unhealthy foods overwhelming the portfolio of healthy foods, consumers can lay their hands on in the market place.    


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