Advertising Fruits and Vegitables

Matthew Yglesias asks,

Why is it that nobody’s marketing broccoli and bananas? This stuff is sold in stores, in exchange for money. Presumably there are for-profit enterprises out there with a vested interest in selling more.

In his Yale course on food politics and policy, Kelly Brownell considers the collective action challenges fruit and vegetable growers face. The basic problem is that a banana or a broccoli crown are commodities. A single grower could promote its product but who looks for a specific brand of grape or tomato? (Some do, but not many.) The meat and dairy industries have solved the collective action problem so we have seen advertising for those products (“The other white meat.” “Got milk?”) The question is, why are some food industries able to organize and not others?

Meanwhile, McDonald’s and Coca Cola are identifiable brands with unique products. Even if the content is not that different from that provided elsewhere, the packaging, store front, etc. are well differentiated. Thus, an ad for McDonald’s isn’t an ad for one of its competitors. McDonald’s is both easy to organize around an advertising campaign and reaps all the rewards. Not so a specific apple grower.

But we do see promotion of healthy food through advertising by brand more broadly. Whole Foods advertises, for example. Of course Whole Foods is not broccoli. There’s plenty of unhealthy food in those aisles too.

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