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Healthy food marketing wolves kept at bay

Jack and Jill’s healthy food and water sources were up at the top of the hill. They lived at the bottom. As the story goes, fetching these got a little rough at times. Likewise, the cow was unco-operative, the chickens flew the coop and Jack Frost kept turning their veggies into, err, waste.

So the exhausted couple were beside themselves when a national supermarket chain opened down the hill. Now they could get their eggs in a box, their tomatoes in a bag, their water in convenient bottles, and a few more healthy food items on the side. But a strange thing happened. When going in to buy just one or two items, they always came out with a full trolley. No matter how hard they tried, their wallet was lighter by far, every time.

The 5 Ps

Unbeknown to them, while rumours of little Red’s demise kept them out of the forest, the real wolf at the door lived in the shadows of the supermarket. Five wolves, actually – in a pack known as Marketing Mix, and named, Price, Place, Promotion, Product and People. Now, while our couple had been schooled to stick to the outer perimeter of the store (because this is where the natural, fresh and healthy food hangs out), the wolves knew this too.

The wolves (as with little Red) knew how to disguise themselves. They painted themselves in bright colours, hid themselves in cute little boxes, put on stickers offering “two for one” and then positioned themselves so that you just couldn’t miss them. And before they knew it – without consciously deciding to do it – Jack and Jill filled their basket with weird and wonderful things.

Real trickery = obesity

While it reads like a nursery rhyme, our modern shopping experiences are exactly the same. I’m not suggesting shop employees are wolves in disguise, or that supermarkets are evil-kenevils deliberately seeking to end our lives early, but there’s no doubt that a conscious attempt occurs to take advantage of human nature in order to turn a profit for shareholders. As a result, the world is faced with two crises: malnourishment and obesity. How we source our food is a big chunk of where the problem lies.

Ultimately, even the best-intentioned health products go the marketing mix route – they too need to make a profit. There’s simply no substitute for taking responsibility for your own life. Unless you determine that you want to be healthy and you’re able to recognise and change the habits that detract from being healthy, no programme (or best-intentioned shopping run) can work.

We love fresh and so do our bodies

Which takes us back to Jack and Jill. If they’ve done their homework they’ll enter the store with the intention of buying fresh, local, free-range, organic, minimally packaged/processed, additive/chemical-free, and ethically-grown produce. They’ll read the labels, and the small print, and they’ll make every attempt possible to avoid impulse buys.

Ask the right questions

But they’re also going to be on the the look-out for the wolves. Some simple questions may help: Price: why is this so cheap; does expensive really = quality? Place: look beyond eye-height; ignore the impulse racks just before paying; buy from your local butcher rather than a one-stop shop. Promotion: is the claim realistic; why the bright colours and sexy image? Product: what does the packaging tell me; is it certified by someone I trust? People: they may be nice but can they help me source what I want, not just sell me what suits them?

This way, no matter how the clever marketing guys lay out the store, Jack and Jill (and you) may just make it back home with the goods in the basket matching the goods on the list.

Tanya Wyatt, Happy Valley pond

Tanya Wyatt

Tanya has written regularly for various health and fitness magazines such as Men’s Health, Marie-Claire, Cosmopolitan and Shape (she also served on the advisory board for Shape), as well as for local South Africa newspaper publications. In 2004, Tanya wrote two internationally released health and fitness-related books, both  published by New Holland. She recently wrote her third book, currently submitted to publishers for consideration.


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2021 Tanya Wyatt / The Happy Body