Seduction or sucked in? What’s the social harm in a bit of label-spin?

MEDIA RELEASE FEBRUARY 2011/ NEW ZEALAND:
John Gibb is a pioneering New Zealand Boysenberry farmer and Managing Director of Nelson-based New Zealand company Sujon Berryfruits. John Gibb on the Total Cereal story circling the global internet:

Consumers are bombarded with product packaging where the words on the packaging “are the product” and what’s inside aren’t necessarily what the consumer expects. This amazing consumer-conundrum has suddenly been exposed as the General Foods Total Brand Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal story has become an internet “instant celebrity”. But I doubt it’s how the brand would like to be celebrated.

There are no blueberries or pomegranates in the Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal: instead colour and flavour is added in the form of chemicals. Let’s be clear: this is totally safe and totally within the food labelling regulations. And it’s totally declared in the small print on the packaging. But is that the total answer for the consumer. Of course not!

If products are created in laboratories and labelled “Imitation whatever” (in print the same size as the sexy fruit name being spun) that’s one thing and that’s fine. Informed consumers make informed decisions. But when the product name and the packaging illustration suggest “real” and when the actual artificial ingredients are “buried” in the small print then they do three-way social harm. And by that I mean:

The consumer harm
• The consumer is not getting what they think they paid money for.
• The consumer might have purchased the product for a possible nutritional or nutraceutical value that the real fruit has and isn’t getting it.
• With the present emphasis on a balanced diet and getting essential nutrients the potential for innocent or naïve consumers to make bad buying decisions for their family is very, very real!
The manufacturer harm
• Manufacturers using real fruit have to compete with those using industrial chemicals.
• If the consumer doesn’t know the difference then they buy the cheaper product and the manufacturer using real fruit fails in the marketplace and can’t invest in good product development. And everyone loses out.
• Of course there has to be price competition but competition must be comparing berries with berries, not berries with eyedroppers of chemicals: one grown and harvested from nature, and the other in a factory.

The berry-fruit grower
• Berry-fruits are not easy to grow: they need care and attention; and a little passion doesn’t hurt! The best berry-fruit can be seen growing in small social settlements: they’re an important micro-economy. They employ many people in many ways.
• Competing with a chemical eye-dropper doesn’t work: it’s not fair.
• In years past the berry was an essential and vital part of the diet of most societies. But the increasing industrialisation of the ingredient list on consumer products seriously threatened the viability of the berry-grower in many countries.
• And then in the 1980’s the berry underwent a rediscovery as scientists found amazing human wellness values in the real fruit.
• That research has spurred increased demand for real fruit but at the same time created the opportunity for the “me-two artificialities” that dominate the consumer’s eyespace.
• So the berry-fruit farmer was expecting his work to be rewarded but it hasn’t happened as it should have: and the communities supporting the growers haven’t benefited as they should have.
The Blackcurrant Example
If we use the blackcurrant as an example:
• In the last five years scientists have discovered real blackcurrants have the potential to: improve eyesight; improve muscle recovery after stress; improve mental health; improve digestive health; and even have a chemo-preventative value against some cancers.
• These values are not a game: they’re not for spinning: they’re real and consumers shouldn’t be mis-lead by packaging purporting to contain the real fruit.
• As a company involved in the health utility in berries I know and have to stress that there’s a lot of science to be done on these values but investment in such science needs funding: and if the grower is being ambushed on price attacks based on the cost-models of ‘imitations’ then the research can’t happen: and we all lose out.

Declaration of Interest:
• Sujon Berryfruits is the inventor and marketer of the Sujon Blackcurrant Sports Performance powder and is presently developing real-fruit based powders and formula for a range of value-added consumer products for muscle recovery following physical stress. This product is based on scientific research supported by real-life human trials.
For further information contact:
John Gibb, Sujon Berryfruits Ltd, Nelson, New Zealand
Tel + 64 3 546 4101 www.sujon.co.nz

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