The well-known advice from Michael Pollan, “you can vote with your fork, and you can do it three times a day” just might be helping to turn the tide on the dominance of the junk food industry. Though the power of Big Food in the United States has often seemed indestructible, sales are declining for many of the biggest players, including the Campbell Soup Company, Kellogg’s and McDonald’s. Increasing consumer interest in food with simpler ingredients has led sectors like natural and organic to outpace more processed categories.
Just this week, the New York Times reported on the major sales decline for ready-to-eat breakfast cereals:
The drop-off has accelerated lately, especially among those finicky millennials who tend to graze on healthy options.
In August, McDonald’s reported it’s weakest monthly sales results in more than a decade. In this Nasdaq article, the author makes a hard-hitting point about American’s desire to eat healthier food:
Generations ago, Americans accepted the world they were given without much question. It is hardly surprising that they put McDonalds food in their mouths, trusting it not to hurt them – they did the same thing with cigarettes – but times do change. Today’s consumer goes out to eat with an active desire to not contribute to his or her own death.
Concerns about sugar and calories have caused consumers to re-evaluate the amount of soda in their diet.
Sales of frozen meals have also seen a noticeable decline. Even brands such as Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and Weight Watchers have all reported losses, despite their healthy sounding names. Bloomberg reports:
Mothers are more concerned about the healthiness of frozen meals than any food item other than soda and sweet snacks.
Making things worse is the “long and scary” list of ingredients in frozen meals, which include preservatives like potassium sorbate, calcium propionate, sodium tripolyphosphate and sorbic acid
Does this mean that consumers desire to eat healthy is the only reason these companies are losing sales? Definitely not. There are a multitude of issues each company is facing, but the desire for less processed, healthful foods is certainly an important factor affecting consumer decisions.
While McDonald’s sales are rapidly dropping, profits for companies like Chipotle, which focus on healthier, fresher and higher quality ingredients, are skyrocketing. And Big Food companies have been rapidly swooping up brands in the natural and organic food categories, as sales for these items have been growing rapidly over the last ten years. This week, General Mills officials announced their acquisition of Annie’s Inc., a company devoted to organic and natural products. And upon slumping sales for the Campbell Soup company, CEO Denise Morrison, was quoted as saying, “the company will focus future acquisitions in North America on targets in the health and wellness category.” Consumers are becoming more aware of the dangers of high-salt foods, and Campbell’s products have long been a major culprit.
While it is impossible to predict whether or not these trends will continue, the power we have as health-conscious consumers is becoming more evident. Michael Pollan is right. In addition to voting for sound food policies for an improved food environment, you can also vote with your fork! Every time we spend money, the recipient of our dollars gets the message that we approve of their product and we want more of it, with the opposite also being true.