The top executives from some of America’s largest food companies met in Minneapolis in April of 1999. Typically rivals for “stomach share,” these top thinkers had come together for a private meeting to discuss options to deal with the emerging obesity epidemic.
Stomach share is the amount of digestive space that one company’s brand can control and essential grab from their competitors. Participants included company chiefs from Nestle’,
Coca-Cola, Mars, General Mills, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble.
All skilled in fighting to increase their company’s bottom line, this was a rare meeting. The business of engineered food is a big deal!
“We were very concerned, and rightfully so, that obesity was becoming a major issue,” stated James Behnke, a 55-year-old executive at Pillsbury. “People were starting to talk about sugar taxes, and there was a lot of pressure on food companies.” A chemist with a doctoral degree in food science, Dr. Behnke had been instrumental in creating many best-selling food items, including microwaveable popcorn.
He apparently felt like it was time to warn the CEO’s that the industry had possibly gone too far in creating and marketing products that contributed to overeating, while still feeling hungry.
Taking place in Pillsbury’s auditorium, Michael Mudd, president of Kraft, began, “I very much appreciate this opportunity to talk to you about childhood obesity and the growing challenge it presents for us all. Let me say right at the start, this is not an easy subject. There are no easy answers — for what the public health community must do is bring this problem under control or for what the industry should do as others seek to hold it accountable for what has happened. But this much is clear: For those of us who’ve looked hard at this issue, whether they’re public health professionals or staff specialists in your own companies, we feel sure that the one thing we shouldn’t do is nothing.”
Keep in mind that this was 1999 and our nation’s obesity rates have climbedhigher each year.
This was a passionate area for Michael Mudd. He drew in the executives with a connection to cigarettes by quoting Yale University professor, Kelly Brownell, who was vocal regarding the processed-food industry. “As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”
Mr. Mudd encouraged the group to harness the expertise of their scientists to explore what was driving Americans to overeat, possibly alter their combinations of salt, sugar, and fat and develop a standard of marketing to young people. “We are saying that the industry should make a sincere effort to be part of the solution. And that by doing so, we can help to defuse the criticism that’s building against us.”
Join me tomorrow to find out how this critical meeting in our nation’s history concluded. The business of engineered food is fascinating!
START SOMEWHERE knowing what you are eating and even why you are eating it. You can do it. I will help you.