It’s 10 o’clock on Easter Sunday morning as I sit at my kitchen table. Out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of the purple bag filled with mini Cadbury chocolate eggs. “Just one,” I say to myself as I grab the bag and rip it open. Ten minutes later I’ve eaten probably thirty of these mini chocolate eggs. The smooth chocolate center with the crunchy sugar coating makes me desire more and more. If you are a sugar-addict like me, you can probably relate to this scenario. The more we eat sugar, the more our cravings intensify. Because I am aware of my weakness, I can usually resist the sugary temptations that try to stop me from eating healthy, balanced meals. But, what if we didn’t know that the food we were eating was addictive? What if we, unknowingly, were eating food that was scientifically formulated to make us addicted and consume more? I have learned that it is not entirely my fault that I am addicted to these sugary chocolate eggs. Cadbury, like many other companies, has gone through intense testing of its product to make us want to consume it in increasing quantities. Although we as consumers have a choice in what we eat, it is very difficult for us to resist these products after we take the first bite because food companies strive to create addictions to boost sales.
Lunchables are the epitome of these crafty corporate practices as described by New York Times food reporter Michael Moss. Manufactured by Kraft, Lunchables first entered the market in 1988. The products are conveniently pre-packaged lunches featuring crackers and preserved deli meat. They were created as a way to boost the sales of Oscar Mayer deli meat because the “busy” mom did not have time to pack a lunch for her children. What started out as a way to boost meat sales quickly skyrocketed into an entire franchise. Lunchables adopted the campaign emphasizing the meal’s fun factor to appeal to an audience of children, and the marketing slogan “lunchtime is all yours,” or that kids are in control of what they eat at lunch. This clever ad campaign is where you would think the advertising and marketing for the product would stop. But no, it turns out that the marketing campaign actually begins in the test kitchen. Scientists and researchers repeatedly tested variations of the Lunchable to see which version appealed most to the consumer. They played around with levels of fat, sugar, and salt, and came up with a perfectly formulated product that not only created maximum pleasure in the targeted young consumers but also caused addictions that increased sales. Despite the dismal nutritional profile that the product developed as Kraft added in addictive sugary desserts and drinks–some Lunchables provide all of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat, two-thirds of the recommended daily amount of sodium and thirteen teaspoons of sugar, all in a single serving–the product continued to sell at an increasing rate. The company quickly halted an effort to create a low-fat product when they learned it did not sell as well because it did not taste as good (Moss). Moss’s analysis of Lunchables demonstrates that companies work hard to create products that are addictive to customers.
As customers, we seldom consider that the food we buy and eat has been heavily tested and formulated to target certain aspects of the human brain that crave increased amounts of sugar, fat, and salt, causing us to crave more and more of that product, thus skyrocketing sales. However, the manufacturer of Lunchables is not the only company employing these techniques. In fact, fast food and mass produced food has become extremely prevalent in the United States, drastically altering the way Americans consume food. Marketing campaigns have also started reaching out to kids who are naïve targets (Schlosser 56-62). All of this is leading to an epidemic: we are consuming these products that are altered, causing overeating, which directly correlates to the rise of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes (Schlosser 78).
Recent research demonstrates that the increase in ingredients such as sugar and fat in mass-produced food products are actually addictive to the human brain and cause effects in people similar to those of drugs (Langreth). These effects are heightened as companies inject these ingredients into their products at unnaturally high and unhealthy levels. Companies do this in an effort to maximize the addictions that people develop to their products, thus maximizing sales and profit. According to further research, the more of these products you eat, the more addicted you become. This is similar to properties found in drugs: the more you consume, the harder it is to stop (Langreth). According to data, when people overeat sugary-filled foods the reward-center in their brains receives high levels of pleasure. In a study involving lab rats, it was shown that when rats consumed sugar water on a regular basis, they strayed away from their “normal diet” and instead consumed more of their “sugar-diet.” Once the lab rats were no longer granted access to sugar water, they demonstrated symptoms of withdrawal, similar to those of recovering drug addicts (Langreth). Companies have access to this data, along with their own research that continually tells them that higher levels of these ingredients creates more pleasure in consumers. These ingredients when consumed in mass amounts lead to health problems. Replacing a “normal diet” with a sugar diet is not a healthy way to live. Since the companies know that these products are highly addictive in large quantities, but still purposely increase the amount of these ingredients in their food, they can be considered accountable for a person’s food addictions. People feel as though they have a choice when it comes to what they eat, without realizing that addictions conditioned by food companies may be driving their choices. These companies formulate the food that consumers eat, and corporate leaders are aware that consumers are unknowingly becoming addicted to their food products, thus promoting sales.
A counterargument to the claim that companies are responsible for people’s food addictions is that companies are simply following the rules of supply and demand found in a capitalistic society. A true capitalist would tell me that I wasn’t forced to eat those Cadbury eggs; I freely chose to do so because I wanted to. Companies are doing their research to find out what sells best, and then they are advertising in order to sell more products and target audiences more effectively. Of course, it is the consumer’s job to be educated about what he or she buys and ingests, and the consumer is allowed to freely choose which products he or she does and does not buy. The nutrition information is clearly labeled on the back of the box, and therefore a consumer has all of the knowledge about the poor nutritional profile of the product. However, Moss asserts that companies fuel addictions by increasing the quantities of salt, sugar, and fat, thus producing an uneven “shopping” field, where the consumer is at a great disadvantage compared to the companies. He believes that although the companies are trying to be health-conscious, they are instead too profit-driven to really be looking out for the best interest of the consumer. Moss suggests that the only way to counter the food addictions that companies create through the use of certain ingredients is by instituting federal regulation. This will force the companies to move in a healthy direction. Without these regulations, their main goal will always be profit-driven (Nolan).
As consumers we should be held accountable for researching the food that we eat, but it seems as though the cards are stacked against us once we take that first bite of that chocolate egg. Companies formulate products to make sure that they are addictive for consumers, thus boosting sales and maximizing profit. Since their products are scientifically engineered, companies should take responsibility for creating food addictions. Because the ratios of ingredients are unnaturally calculated, we are left almost defenseless to the wiring of our brains when we ingest these products. However, a way to counter this problem is by creating government regulations limiting the amount of sugar and salt used in products, as per Moss’s suggestion, to limit the actions of these profit-driven companies. Companies that spend tremendous amounts of money on scientific research on unhealthy food could instead use that money to research healthy alternative and tasty products. When changes are made, both federally and within the companies themselves, obesity rates will drop, and America will move in a healthier direction.
Langreth, Robert, and Duane D. Stanford. “Fatty Foods Addictive as Cocaine in Growing Body of Science.” Bloomberg. Bloomberg, 2 Nov. 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2013
Moss, Michael. “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.
Nolan, Rachel. “Behind the Cover Story: Michael Moss on Addictive Foods and What He Eats for Breakfast.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 25 Feb. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.
Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-american Meal. N.p.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.