Big Food

Media Coverage for Report on Big Food Influence over American Society for Nutrition

Last Monday, I released my latest report, called: Nutrition Scientists on the Take from Big Food: Has the American Society for Nutrition lost all credibility? Here is the media coverage so far:

Leading U.S. Nutrition Scientists Forge Cozy Relationships With Major Food Companies and Lobbying Groups, Report Charges, International Business Times

Is the Leading Nutrition Science Group in Big Food’s Pocket? Mother Jones

Do big food companies have too much sway over nutrition research? WBEZ Radio

Report Questions Nutrition Group’s Ties to Food Companies, Food Manufacturing

Food companies, nutrition researchers getting too friendly: reportFoodDive

Does Big Grape Juice Control Nutrition Research? An Interview with Michele Simon, Public Health Perspectives

The food industry’s undue influence on the American Society for Nutrition, Food Politics

Industry-funded nutrition groups shouldn’t dictate health policy, Al Jazeera America

Huge Number of Nutritional Experts May Be Bought off by the Big Junk Food Companies, AlterNet

Advocate criticizes a science group’s ties to Big Food, San Antonio Express-News

Nutrition Scientists on the Take From Big Food

New Report from Eat Drink Politics asks: Has the American Society for Nutrition Lost All Credibility?

In my new report, I expose the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), the nation’s leading authority of nutrition scientists and researchers, for its cozy relationships with the likes of PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonalds, Monsanto, Mars, and even the Sugar Association. Such conflicts of interest are similar to those exposed in my previous report about the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Powerful junk food companies purchase “sustaining partnerships” from the American Society for Nutrition, gaining access to the nation’s leading nutrition researchers at their annual meetings, and in their policy positions. ASN’s “Sustaining Member Roundtable Committee” includes PepsiCo’s Chief Scientific Officer and the Chief Science Officer at National Dairy Council.

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The food movement should learn from the propaganda industry

Earlier this month, the nation’s largest health charity, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, announced a $500 million commitment over the next decade to curb childhood obesity, adding to its previous spending of the same amount since 2007. A billion dollars over 18 years is a lot of money. But let’s place it in context: The soda lobby spent at least $100 million in five years on public relations alone, for advertising campaigns that thwart many of the policies the foundation supports. While we know that industry vastly outspends nonprofit advocacy groups on lobbying, new data reveals that spending on public relations may be even more important. Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Is the Dietitians Association of Australia in the Pocket of Big Food?

New Report from Eat Drink Politics Exposes Conflicts of Interest in Australian Dietitians Group

coverJust as most western nations do, Australia suffers significantly from diet-related chronic diseases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, killing one Australian every 12 minutes. Diabetes is also a serious health concern, with rising rates in recent years, according to the government.

The 2013 report, “And Now a Word from Our Sponsors,” also from Eat Drink Politics, found that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States has a serious credibility problem due to its myriad conflicts with the junk food industry. Sadly, a very similar situation exists within Australia’s dietetic profession, led by the Dietitians Association of Australia. Among the most troubling findings of the new report from Eat Drink Politics:

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Top 10 Legal Victories for the Food Movement in 2014

In my ongoing attempt to shine a light on the critical role that lawyers play in the food movement, here are just a few examples of legal victories this past year. As this list demonstrates, we need lawyers to both proactively change the law, and to defend against legal challenges. This was an especially good year for legal victories. So thank a lawyer! Continue reading →

Unilever Drops Mayo Lawsuit Giving Hampton Creek Another PR Boost

You almost have to feel sorry for Big Mayo. After getting slammed with negative press last month for its ill-conceived lawsuit against Hampton Creek, Unilever raised the white flag by dropping the case. But instead of burying the news late on a Friday, the company put out its release at 6pm on Thursday, at the end of what was a huge news day for Hampton Creek. The San Francisco start-up announced an additional $90 million in investment capital, a strong indicator that the lawsuit actually attracted more investors instead of scaring them off.

A Google news search this morning for Hampton Creek reveals about 200 news stories, a mix of coverage for its fundraising success and the lawsuit being dropped. In other words, Unilever gave reporters an additional angle to shine a positive light on Hampton Creek and keep the media coverage going from yesterday into today. (My favorite headline is from CNN Money: “Unilever lays an egg: Drops Just Mayo lawsuit”.)

But what most media outlets ignored was how unprecedented it is for the party filing a lawsuit like this to simply drop it, without getting anything in return, and before any court hearings. It’s clear that Unilever realized its mistake and just wanted the whole thing to go away, and just in time for the holidays. It’s a fitting end to a colossal PR blunder. As the Los Angeles Times put it: “The mayo war was over before it even began.”

Hampton Creek raises $90 million as investors bank on a plant-based future

Update at 3:30 pm PT: Unilever just announced it’s dropping the lawsuit. Great idea.

Here’s a winning formula any start-up would want to emulate: Step 1) Engineer a high-quality, more sustainable product to compete in a multi-billion dollar category such as mayonnaise; Step 2) When your competition gets mad enough to file a lawsuit against you, use it your advantage in the media; Step 3) Raise $90 million from investors.

That’s pretty much how Hampton Creek has played it. As I wrote about last month, Unilever sued Hampton Creek over the San Francisco start-up’s Just Mayo product for not containing eggs, which is the entire point of the product. Unilever (maker of Hellmann’s) was upset because Just Mayo was “stealing market share”. But the lawsuit backfired when the multinational giant was excoriated in the media for bullying the little guy. Meanwhile, Hampton Creek received heaps of positive press and increased sales. According to one estimate, just a week of media attention generated about $21 million of free advertising for Hampton Creek.

All that certainly didn’t hurt the company’s efforts to attract additional capital investments, as Hampton Creek has just raised an additional $90 million, bringing the total to $120 million. According to the San Francisco Business Times, the lawsuit “may have helped solidify the company in the eyes of investors”.

The vote of confidence, particularly from high-tech investors, signals a bright future for innovative companies willing to challenge the status quo. New mission-driven companies like Hampton Creek offer a beacon of light to investors seeking an opportunity to put their money toward positive solutions such as creating delicious replacements for unsustainable animal foods. And if they ruffle some feathers of Big Food along the way, that’s a good sign.

Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick (pictured above) told the San Francisco Business Times:

I think what [the lawsuit] did is that it showed all of these people, and our funders, that we’re really not [messing] around. When we say we have a point of view about being mainstream and making healthier food more affordable — even when one of the biggest players in the world comes down on us in a lawsuit — we hold our ground.

Keep holding that ground, it’s working wonders, while making Unilever look even worse.

Big Food Confronts High-Tech Challengers

Innovative food startups trying to curb soaring meat production can expect legal and political obstacles

Growing more and more animals for food is unsustainable. The World Health Organization predicts that global annual meat production will increase from 218 million tons in 1998 to 376 million tons by 2030. That uptick will bring with it numerous negative consequences, including deforestation, animal manure contamination of air and water and excessive use of water supplies and harmful energy sources, not to mention contributions to climate change.

Recognizing this problem, food startups backed by significant venture capital are hoping to create food products without using animals. The goal: provide a viable alternative to the existing animal foods production model that is wreaking havoc on the environment, public health and animal welfare. As a new wave of products aiming to mimic meat, eggs and dairy comes to mainstream supermarkets, Big Food’s pushback will only mount — and what started in the lab will soon make its way to the political arena.  Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Unilever’s Bullying Backfires, Boosts Hampton Creek

Negative media coverage of Big Mayo lawsuit goes viral in case study of PR blunder

All of these images were used in recent media stories of Big Mayo lawsuit

Business schools love a good case study, especially when a big corporation blows it. Now they can add Unilever’s colossal public relations mistake to their list. Wall Street Journal tech columnist Christopher Mims summed it up with this tweet: “Giant Corporation Generates Huge Quantities of Free Advertising and Brand Equity For Tiny Rival by Suing It”.

As I predicted earlier this week in my post about the maker of Hellmann’s suing start-up Hampton Creek over egg-free mayonnaise, the press and social media firestorm in just the past few days has already given Unilever a black eye, while the Just Mayo brand enjoys free positive PR. Almost all of the stories (of more than 200) I saw online were in Hampton Creek’s favor, framing the lawsuit as a classic David versus Goliath fight, at times mocking Unilever.

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Big Mayo Files Frivolous Lawsuit Against Eggless Competitor

Food Giant Unilever suing Hampton Creek for daring to offer a cruelty-free and sustainable alternative, whining that: “Just Mayo already is stealing market share from Hellmann’s”

Just Mayo

Business school pop quiz: What’s a $60 billion global behemoth to do when a San Francisco start-up cuts into their profits? If answers like “innovate your products” or “hire a better marketing team” come to mind, you must not work at Unilever. That company’s response to competition is to take them to court. Unilever owns many top food brands such as Best Foods (and is also the largest deodorant maker in the world). The company is suing Hampton Creek for unfair business practices and false advertising, claiming their plant-based product called Just Mayo is deceptive to consumers because it doesn’t contain eggs. Actually that’s the whole point: to not use eggs.

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