Big Food's Growth. Our Failure to Shrink. Hmmm.
I have always thought Pepsi’s decision to buy Frito-Lay was a clear-eyed bit of business strategy genius: own both the cause and the cure of thirst. A complete and sustainable consumer ecosystem. Neat. But recent articles in The New York Times suggest that an even more lucrative continuous loop has been undergirding one ballooning ($82 Billion) segment of the consumer market: weight loss.
Yet, we are no thinner, right? Indeed, roughly one third of us is slouching towards obesity.
How can this possibly be? The Times’ reported on a small study done by following the trajectory of the various ‘winners’ on The Biggest Loser and found that virtually every one of them had gained all or most of the weight back. More importantly, the study explained why this is possible. It seems our bodies fight like crazy to get us back to our higher weight. Our bodies, it turns out, get even with us for consciously seeking to lose weight: They drastically alter our metabolic settings, so that once we’ve lost the weight, we have to work literally twice as hard to keep it off. Seems that once the body thinks 450 is its ideal weight, it battles to return to that goal-flouting number: By lowering our metabolism; by infusing us with hormones that keep us from feeling sated; and probably by other remarkably mean-spirited tactics that haven’t been discovered yet.
What intrigues me is that all the major weight loss systems we have focus primarily on loss, not maintaining the loss: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, we know them all. It’s all about the ‘before and after’ success stories.
Well, gosh: Follow the money: In the current culture, it’s all about food with a doff of the hat, wink-wink to the importance of the “and exercise” in diet and exercise regimes. We don’t want to exercise. We want to be at our high school graduation weight. The power of magical thinking leveraged to fuel Big Food’s growth. Growth has come from consumers’ failure to shrink.
Like a snake feeding on its own tail, the weight comes off in 12 weeks and goes back on in 40 and then, back to the New Year’s resolution ritual that includes a gym membership never used after Valentine’s Day. Consumers are left to their own devices to shed that two or so pounds a year that our bodies seem hard-wired to layer on. It’s a business plan mired in a cycle of defeat, but one which unwittingly (or not) reboots annually. Very Pepsi/Frito-Lay when you think about it: Be both the cause and (alleged) cure of the problem.
Come on folks! No more new products until you get this right. Put the R&D into science, not soft-drink flavored Pop-Tarts.