How to sell more salt

It’s a marketing triumph to increase salt sales when Canadians eat too much of the stuff.

Specialty salts

Specialty salts

We’re supposed to limit salt to 2,300 milligrams a day. Instead we consume 3,400. The Harper government created a task force to study the problem and they came up with recommendations. Then government replaced the task force with a panel. That one was criticized for having too many ties to the food industry. Predictably, the panel recommendations were more industry-friendly than health-conscious.

Health Canada was then instructed by the Harper government, I think it’s fair to suppose, to make regulations to the food industry voluntary.

To no one’s surprise, voluntary regulations don’t work. Average salt levels didn’t decrease, reports Carly Weeks (Globe and Mail, April 27, 2016). A few foods where it did decrease was cause for the food industry to claim that they were making “significant progress.”

Time will tell whether the Trudeau government will get serious about regulating the food industry. It was one of their campaign promises.

Selling more salt when your product is so vilified may seem like trying to increase cigarette sales. The trick is to find where salt is controlled by consumers. It turns out that we don’t control most of the salt we consume.

Most of the salt comes from packaged foods: 77 per cent. Only 6 per cent is added while cooking and another 5 per cent is added at the table. (I don’t put a salt shaker on the table. I figure it’s an insult to my cooking when guests add salt.)

The market, then, is in the 6 per cent that the cook adds and the 5 per cent (unwisely) put on the table. Windsor Salt, one of Canada’s oldest brands, is giving itself a more “premium” image reports Susan Krashinsky (Globe and Mail, April 28, 2016.)

Windsor’s vice-president of sales and marketing explains the strategy: “Now, we see a trend where the consumer is willing to pay more for salt with different features.”

Image is important: Windsor has made small changes to the design of the package. These changes may seem trivial but they’re based on research. The changes were tested on subjects in which illustrations, called planograms, of salt packages on store shelves where shown to test subjects. Designs that were most eye-catching were used.

Another tactic is table appeal. A Windsor marketer states: “Our goal is to be on the table with that bottle of wine, and the nice cheese that the consumer is buying.”

It’s working. Specialty salts now make up one-half the retail salt market in Canada. More shelf space is being given these salts. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver sells his own line of salt grinders including Mediterranean sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, and thyme, lemon and bay salt.

Salt sales are up: on a tonnage basis by 2 per cent and on a dollar basis, 11 per cent. Salty snack sales are up. A Neilson researcher says: “Even though consumers are concerned about health and wellness, the salty snack category is doing really well.”

It’s a triumph of marketing over good sense and lack of regulation.

How to market sugar water

There’s no doubt that consumption of pop is harmful, even deadly but you’d never know it from the soft drink industry. Professor Paulette Nestle, nutritionist at New York University, is blunt:

“The science is clear. Kids and adults who drink pop tend to be heavier and have a higher prevalence of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay.”

coca_cola_bubbles

Studies funded by the soft drink industry find the opposite: roughly 85 per cent of them find pop to be harmless. And if there is a problem, they say, it’s your fault. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing pop down your throat. The problem lies on the shoulders of individual consumers. It’s a matter of choice. If only consumers would exercise more.

However, consumers make choices on what they perceive about a product and the sugar water industry is persuasive. They spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads that avoid the product itself. Instead, they market deep emotional connections to friends and family. If I can find happiness in a can of Coke, why wouldn’t I drink it?

And if I can find my identity in a can of pop, all the better. Coke sells cans with my name on it and words such as Love and Superstar. Who wouldn’t want to support a corporation that supports the arts, community projects, and cleaning up the environment?

“When Philadelphia was considering a soft-drink tax, Coke offered to give the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia $10 million. It’s that kind of thing,” says the author of eight books in a newsletter from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.

It’s a standard tactic used by the merchants of misery. You see it used by proponents of Ajax mine in Kamloops. They don’t address the problems that the mine will create: like toxic dust, groundwater contamination, potential sludge spills, the environmental headache created by the mountain of tailings when they leave.

No, Ajax mine tells us how important copper is to our daily lives, how they will create jobs, how they support our university and the arts. To oppose the mine is to oppose family and community, they would have us to believe.

The sugar water industry has learned from the tobacco industry that you can counter science by creating doubt. Sure, 99 per cent of studies might find that consumption of tobacco causes cancer but if only one study is inconclusive, then maybe tobacco is not that bad. It’s human nature to hope that something we want will be OK despite mounting evidence to the contrary, something we are addicted to or feel a deep emotional connection to, something that will create jobs.

Another tool in the toolbox is to fund groups like the Global Energy Balance Network. The group employed scientists of considerable stature who found that lack of exercise, not diet, was responsible for the obesity epidemic. Then a reporter for the New York Times discovered that these scientists had been taking millions of dollars in research grants from Coca Cola including funding of the website.

One of these scientists said not worry about eating less, gobbling junk food, drinking pop. Just be more active. Would it were true.