Sunday, 15 December 2013

Marketing at its brightest – the winter warmer edition

Ah, what a wonderful thing is Twitter. It is actually, but that’s for another time.

Last week, yet another in the regular stream of promoted tweets landed in my account, from Innocent (of smoothies fame) and advertising their veg pots.

According to the tweet, these are “anti-winter food” and all you need to do is: “1. Buy veg pot. 2. Heat up as per instructions. 3. Put in face. 4. Beat winter.”

No food in the history of humankind has ever ‘beaten’ winter like these pots – which have the added benefit of offering to supply you with three portions of your recommended daily fruit and veg intake.

Obviously prices will vary slightly, but at present, Ocado has them at £3.90 a pot or £6 for two.

They vary in weight between 380 and 390g per pot.

Looking at one of those that is advertised in the tweet, the Mexican sweet potato chilli veg pot (390g) contains:

Cooked Brown Rice (17%)[Water, Brown Rice], Tomatoes, Water, Carrot, Pinto Beans, Red Kidney Beans, Sweet Potato (5)%, Onion, Potato, Red Peppers, Red Onion, Sweetcorn, Spinach, Vegetable Oil, Marinated Jalapeno Peppers (0.8%) [Jalapeno Peppers, Water, Vinegar, Salt, Sugar, Spices], Cornflour, Coconut Sugar, Lime Juice, Garlic, Cajun Seasoning [Spices, Herbs, Mustard Seed, Salt, Sugar], Sea Salt, Smoked Paprika (0.2%), Coriander, Green Chilli, Black Pepper.

Now even a fairly cursory glance at this list will shows that it’s not exactly chock full of junk and additives – that’s not an issue, although pre-processed vegetables do lose nutrients the longer they wait between prep and consumption.

The question that’s worth looking at, though, is the cost, so let’s look at that in some detail.

Next – water. Well, I’m not going to calculate that, for fairly obvious reasons.

Felicity Cloake, in her ‘how to’ series in the Guardian, suggests using 450g of basmati for four people – 112g per person – and this seems to tally with a variety of other sources.

Let’s take Waitrose’s ‘easy cook’ wholegrain rice essential, which is £1.79 for 1 kilo (18p per 100g).

So our 17% of 390g is 66.3g is just under 10p – and remember that the ingredients list states honestly that that rice also includes the water that will have swelled it during cooking.

Next up, tomatoes. If we’re going for convenience, then let’s have another tin – Waitrose ‘essential’ chopped tomatoes in juice – 400g for 55p (100g = 14p).

It’s more difficult to calculate since we don’t know what percentage of the ingredients it represents, but it’s less than 17% and more than 5%, given it’s position between the ingredients for which a specific percentage is listed.

This is, incidentally, also a good illustration of why ingredients lists are not necessarily as easy to read as you might expect.

So on those tomatoes, let’s pretend it’s 10% – we can, as you’ll see, afford to err on the side of generosity. That would be about 39g of tomatoes, rolling in at around 5.46p.

So, after the main two ingredients, we’re on just under 15.46p.

We’ve calculated for just 27% of the contents.

The only other individual percentages given add up to just 1%.

Let’s allow another 2% for everything else – all the seasonings and the vegetable oil – and we have a new total of 29%. In which case, let’s make things easy and pretend it’s 30%.

We need to find 70% of that 390g from the remaining vegetables and pulses.

Let’s say 10% for carrots – 10.4p.

10% for each lot of beans – 0.09p and 0.078p. We’re up to 60% now and a staggering 26.028p.

Thankfully, we know that sweet potato constitutes 5% and, at an Ocado price of £2.52 per kilo, for 19.5g, that would cost a whopping 50p (rounded up).

So that’s 65% and 26.52p.

Vegetables. Chopping board. Knife. Not rocket science
Let’s call the onion and potato 10% each. Then the red peppers, red onion and sweetcorn all 5% each.

More Ocado prices: onion (80p per kilo), potato (90p per kilo), red peppers (£9.94 per kilo), red onion (£1 per kilo), sweetcorn (17p per 100g).

Onion = 8p. Potato = 9p. Red pepper = 50p (rounded up). Red onion = 5p and sweetcorn = 0.008p.

So, we’ve made up 390g – and it’s cost us just 98.528p.

For the sake of this very rapid experiment, both the red pepper and sweet potato prices are probably higher than you’d need to pay because I had to look at bags in order to get a weight.

I haven’t even attempted to calculate the cost for spices and seasonings, because these are the things that we have in our cupboards and use over varying lengths of time – but certainly not just for one quite small lunch.

The point is that an Innocent veg pot doesn’t cost anything like £3.90 (or even £3 in a special offer) to produce.

Of course, you’re also paying for the container, for the wrapper, for the advertising and other marketing (including someone promoting tweets about it); for the wages of those who manufacture it and the profits for the manufacturer and the retailer and any transport company in between (and there’s nothing inherently wrong with profit).

You’re paying for the development of the product, for design and for the upkeep of the machinery that makes it.

On the other hand, you could just throw together some veg and some herbs and spices, cook and then divvy out into a microwavable container. Take it to work and shove in the office microwave (if you have one). Then “put in face”.

The calculations above make me almost dizzy – but thats what the marketing people want. Then you won't think what you're paying for.

It’ll be far, far cheaper – you can even use the container again and again too, so it’s more environmentally friendly as well.

It’ll be every bit as healthy and it’ll keep you just as warm against any winter chills as a pot of processed vegetables.

The marketing of this product relies on the consumer believing that £3.90 – or £3 – is actually cheap for the convenience; and not remembering that it takes next to no time to chop some vegetables, cook them, add some seasoning and herbs, and then pop them in a container.

And you really don’t need to give in to Coca-Cola (which owns 90% of Innocent Drinks) in order to enjoy a warming lunch this winter.

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