Michael Pollan has one more echo in Starbucks with 'Real Food'

Michael Pollan may not be proud of this, but savvy food retailers are co-opting his famous Pollanism -- "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants" -- and foodies concerned more about nutritional value and food miles than brand loyalty don't know whether to laugh, cry, or nosh.

The latest Pollan fan is Starbucks Corp. (SBUX), which this week announced it was revamping its food offerings to remove the preservatives (where possible) and eliminate high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and other food dyes.

I know its marketing people are readers not only because of this nod to Pollan's belief in eliminating highly-processed ingredients and limiting the total number of ingredients ("Banana Walnut Bread, which is made from 11 ingredients -- a number closer to home-made" says the Reuters piece), but also from the slogan of the new campaign that will accompany the restyled food: "Real Food. Simply Delicious." A Pollanism if I've ever heard one; Starbucks even implicitly tips its hat to his advice that consumers eat "real food" instead of "food-like substances."

I go into more detail about how Starbucks' new food is probably not quite what Pollan was hoping for (one reason: white flour; another reason: sugar is still a highly-processed ingredient) on WalletPop. But here is what is important: Starbucks, like so many others before it, is banking that consumers are in for the sound bites, not for the deep analysis of Pollan and other sustainable eating author's texts.

Target (TGT) has its sound bites in order, too, with its recent new slogan for its fresh food offerings, "Eat Well. Pay Less." Other companies who've recently decided to opt in to the locavore revolution include PepsiCo (PEP), with its Lay's potato chips, whose farmers are participating in its advertising, and Unilever's (UL) Haagen-Dazs, which has gone "simple" with just five ingredients (one of Pollan's food rules is not to buy anything with more than five ingredients).

Look for more of this in the coming months as food companies attempt to cash in on the coming slow food movement before customers start realizing that an honest reading of these books says, essentially, grow food or buy produce directly from farmers and bake your own breakfast treats. If the change Pollan and other food authorities like him hope for happens, the days of convenience food as a growth industry will be over and forgotten.


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