Americans are finally beginning to figure out that they’re too good for junk food, and the industry is feeling the burn. Bloomberg Businessweek’s latest cover story — “They’re Gr-r-ross” – takes the form of a premature eulogy to Tony the Tiger, and portrays the beloved mascot sporting a gas mask.
Big Food itself isn’t even denying it anymore: Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, recently acknowledged the monumental challenge of consumers’ renewed interest in healthful food, coupled with a growing suspicion that the sought-after fare can’t be found in cans or packages; what Morrison characterized as our “mounting distrust of so-called Big Food, the large food companies and legacy brands on which millions of consumers have relied on for so long.”
Hearing Morrison’s distress cry, food and agriculture writer Tom Philpott asked, “Is the junk-food era drawing to a close?”
To which I would respond: maybe. But maybe it just wants us to think it is.
True, there are signs Big Food’s offerings aren’t flying off the shelves the way they used to. As Philpott details, a number of major convenience food companies — the owners of brands like Reddi-Wip, Chef Boyardee, Oscar Mayer deli meats and Velveeta cheese — are reporting sluggish sales and diminishing profits, while Kellogg’s is attempting to reverse its slump by releasing new products, with an emphasis on simpler ingredients. The amount of calories Americans consume from sugary drinks, moreover, has been declining for more than a decade. New dietary recommendations reinforce that trend toward the healthful, advocating for a diet high in plants and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, even suggesting taxes on the latter to further influence behavior.