I have many things to do today and writing this post was not on my list. But as I was cleaning out my in-box, an especially disgusting news item caught my attention and writing about it is the only way I know to release my outrage. My version of screaming from the rooftop.
The offending article, on Bloomberg.com (Nestle to Sail Amazon Rivers to Reach Consumers) describes how the world’s largest food company will soon “begin sailing a supermarket barge down two Amazon river tributaries as it competes with Unilever to reach emerging-market customers cut off from branded goods.”
A supermarket barge? Has Big Food already run out of customers in cities and other locales that are more readily accessible by land? Cut off from branded goods? I don’t think these people are lost or have been camping out too long, they’re just living their lives. They probably don’t even realize they are missing out on Toll House, Raisinets, and Sno-Caps. But no matter, if there are people out there so backwards to still be subsisting on food found in nature, Big Food will find them, by land or by sea, and set them straight.
The boat, with more than 1,000 square feet of supermarket space, will journey to 18 cities, reaching 800,000 potential consumers in Brazil, and will even provide access for the disabled and elderly.
But how can these poor Bralizian residents even afford to purchase processed foods when they are probably struggling as it is? No worries, Nestle has that little problem all figured out too. According to the article:
Nestle sells 3,950 products in “popularly positioned” formats designed for low-income consumers. Smaller packs allow poor consumers to afford branded goods like richer shoppers rather than turn to generic alternatives. The Swiss company has a team of 7,000 saleswomen who peddle packs of Nestle goods door-to-door in Brazilian slums.
Translation: Because Nestle knows that poor people cannot afford the same super-sized packages commonly sold in the West, the company sells starter products to get poor customers hooked on their brands. The threat of “generic alternatives” looms large because, god forbid, these people figure out that juice is just juice and brand really makes no difference. The strategy of hooking poor people on smaller, cheaper goods is commonplace but was pioneered by the tobacco industry, which still sells single cigarettes in developing world. (The practice is banned in most other nations.)
And what, pray tell, will the floating supermarket carry? Surely, necessary food items for these hard-to-reach residents. Bloomberg.com notes, “The vessel will carry 300 different goods including chocolate, yogurt, ice cream and juices.” Yup, all the essentials. But wait maybe Nestle is taking care of the poor’s nutrition needs after all: “The company often adds nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A to address deficiencies among the poor.” How heartwarming.
Nestle’s press release proudly announcing the vessel’s voyage adds:
The floating supermarket develops another trading channel which offers access to Nutrition, Health and Wellness to the remote communities in the north region of Brazil.
Who better to teach nutrition than the maker of Drumstick ice cream?
As I wrote about previously here, with Western nations becoming more and more saturated while regulatory pressures mount in the U.S. to curb unsavory marketing practices, Big Food has no choice but to step up the sales pace in the developing world. As the article explains:
Nestle had 2009 food and beverage sales growth in emerging markets of 8.5 percent, more than double the rate of its total business. The company has said it aims to boost the proportion of sales from developing countries to 45 percent in a decade from 35 percent now.
Just in case you missed that: Within ten years, the world’s largest food company will do almost half of its business in the developing world. That’s astounding by any measure of any industry.
And yes, Brazil is already showing signs of diet-related health problems. This article from Time magazine last year describes the concern over rising obesity rates found by Brazil’s own Health Ministry. While the numbers there are still small compared to here, as Nestle keeps reloading its ice cream barge to reach more “brand-deprived” poor people, it won’t take long before that gap narrows.