Marketing Games Crowd Grocery Aisles

July 19, 2012

By Joanie Stiers

Marketing Games in Grocery Aisles

My kids’ bums never saw a dash of baby powder in their diaper years. I had the need: Cute little baby bottoms inevitably develop rashes. And I had the supply: The smooth white bottles with pin-hole tops arrived in gift bags of onesies and pacifiers to welcome our firstborn.

But I heard not to use baby powder. So I didn’t. I gave a mommy’s no-no to this exemplary symbol of baby. It was the powdery comfort that decades ago soothed my baby rump, which seems fine today minus the need for some Pilates. OK, maybe a lot of Pilates.

As a new mom, I simply didn’t know what to do. I worried. And wondered. And questioned. So avoiding baby powder seemed the easiest way to calm my in-the-moment fear, which I was too busy to substantiate.

This summer, a thought hit me while ducking to mow under our apple tree: Do consumers play this mental game of ping-pong with their food? Consumer research indicates that people who lack farm connections generally do.

We grow corn and soybeans as part of our livelihood. We avidly grow fruits and vegetables for home use and stock our freezers with our family-raised beef, pork and chicken. While I rarely visit the meat counter, I do peruse the other grocery aisles every two weeks. And there, food marketing bears little influence on my buying decisions.

Still, I notice the words on the packages and signs: gluten, organic, trans fat, enhanced, improved, natural, free-range or free of whatever sounds bad to make the product sound better. The words cloud thinking like baby powder blown under a dorm room door with a hair dryer. (That really happened.) If I didn’t grow food, I’d probably take the powder route: Avoid what sounds bad, just in case.

Instead, I largely look at flavor, price and the nutritional label for fat, sugar, salt and calorie content. Is it because my family farms and understands production methods? Is it the way I was raised? Probably, though I had never thought about it until now.

It’s great that we have choices, even if it’s simply to support our cause. I buy 1 percent milk, a household compromise between skim and 2 percent. I choose baking mix without trans fat. I freeze butter when it goes on sale. I buy grapefruit in January when they’re sweet and in season down South. And, if there’s a choice, I buy produce labeled from the United States. I know we American farmers have regulations to follow. I’m unsure of the regulations in other countries. So enters my moment of wonder, which influences my buying decision.

Unsubstantiated concern is like a weed, and weeds are the enemy that can rob my soybean plants of necessary space, sunlight and nutrients. They also crowd the grocery aisle by way of marketing and can prevent good farmers and good food manufacturers from selling good products.

I eventually learned how a healthy dusting of baby powder effectively keeps bugs from munching on my garden’s green bean plants. My kids are more than 18 months past diapers (hooray for underpants!), but at least I can make up for my previous lack of support to baby powder makers.

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