Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Marketing at its brightest: the breakfast edition

Earlier today, someone in the office in which I was working brought in a freebie that they’d been handed at one of London’s major railway stations.

It was a little packet containing two biscuits, both of which were filled with what the packet described as “creamy live yogurt”.

This was, apparently, a "belVita Breakfast” biscuit – a “yogurt crunch”, indeed, which is the latest addition to a range of ‘breakfast biscuits’ from Kraft/Nabisco.

The packet suggests something incredibly wholesome. Look at it the box. That’s the sun that you see, shining down onto wheat (or some other grain crop), while a rustic-looking biscuit leans temptingly between a cup of some hot drink (probably coffee) and a little pot of plain yogurt.

So why on Earth had he decided to look such a gift horse in the mouth and leave this freebie for someone else to pick up?

belVita Breakfast is one of those things that is marketed – very carefully and rather cleverly – as healthy.

The whole bit about the biscuits containing “creamy live yogurt” suggests both luxury and something completely natural and healthy. It’s fair to say that yogurt is viewed as a generally healthy product, while “creamy” suggests luxury.

A pack contains two biscuits. Each biscuit contains 119 kcals, which is “6% GDA” (guideline daily amounts). So if you’re watching the old cals, that sounds pretty darned good.

The biscuits are “made with 5 wholegrains” – now we all know that “wholegrains” are nutritional nirvana, so what could be better?

And according to the packet, they are “rich in cereals” with “no colours or preservatives”; they’re “made with a blend of 5 wholegrains”, they’re a “source of fibre”, a “source of calcium and vitamin E”, and you can “enjoy as part of a balanced breakfast”.

Which, just in case you don’t know what a “balanced breakfast” actually is, is also explained: “eg with a latte and a banana”.

Oh well that’s clear, then.

Although: “a latte and a banana”? Have we become part of the States sometime recently? Why not a cuppa tea? Indeed, if you want to be posh, why not a cup of Earl Grey in nice bone china?

Nope, it’s recommending something that, most likely, you will buy from a shop. You won't make it at home – you'll buy it from a franchise. Oh, how big business friendly.

But okay, let’s move on.

The ingredients list makes for fascinating reading.

Now, I’m sad enough that I copied the ingredient list out in full – and here it is, right down to the weird use of commas instead of full points in the middle of the percentages.

“Ingredients: wheat flour 31,4%, wholegrain cereals 23,9% (wholegrain wheat flour, oat flakes, wholegrain barley flour, wholegrain rye flour, wholegrain spelt flour), sugar, vegetable oil, wheat starch, dextrose, yogurt powder 3,0%, whey powder, raising agents (sodium hydrogen carbonate, disodium diphosphate, ammonium hydrogen carbonate), vitamins and minerals mixture (vitamin B1, vitamin E, vitamin B3, iron, magnesium, calcium), flavouring, skimmed milk powder, emulsifier (soya lecithin), salt, acidity regulator (citric acid).”


You need all that to make a biscuit?

As far as I know, I’ve never made anything that included “sodium hydrogen carbonate, disodium diphosphate and ammonium hydrogen carbonate”.

Well, I bloody well hope not!

And I bet none of you realised that you needed those things to make a biscuit, now did you?

But look at it again. This is actually really rather clever. Sneaky – but clever.

By having both wheat flour (at 31.4%) and a selection of five other grains – at 23.9% combined but all listed individually, it makes a long list before we hit sugar as an ingredient.

In other words, it disguises the fact that sugar is the third largest ingredient in this ‘healthy’ breakfast, making it appear, at a glance, as the seventh largest ingredient.

But that's not all: carry on reading and the sixth largest ingredient is dextrose – or 'corn sugar' as it's otherwise known.

Kraft Foods/Nabisco – take a bow.

Your marketing of a highly processed foodstuff will probably con some people into believing that it forms part of a genuinely healthy breakfast (with a shop-bought latte and banana, of course).

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just one illustration of why, when defenders of Big Food claim that the relationship between consumer and industry is, in any way, shape or form, entirely even, and that what you eat is 100% a matter of 'personal responsibility', with no concomitant corporate responsibility, it's a load of total bollocks.


  1. You probably have used sodium hydrogen carbonate, but it was labelled "baking soda".

    1. In which case, yes I have.

      Although it does beg the question of why it isn't labeled as such; in other words, something that more people will understand.

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