• 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.

    • But what about the bottled water sold by Coke, Pepsi, etc? That’s obviously not a differentiated product physically, but nevertheless has been branded successfully enough to make selling-water-in-a-bottle profitable. Why couldn’t a similar logic apply to broccoli or carrots? Why couldn’t those be marketed to kids?

      • @Rich C – Seems like more of a cultural/behavioral issue. For some reason (I can’t explain why) people think that one brand of bottled water is to be preferred over another. Maybe we’re just used to bottled beverage branding and that momentum has carried us too far. Would people feel that way about broccoli? Perhaps if one brand can claim a difference (e.g. a genetically engineered one) it would work.

    • I’m curious, though, why we don’t see more of this for major brands. Dole pineapple, as an example. Is that because it is canned or marginally processed for storage? What about Chiquita bananas? Haven’t they advertised?

    • @Paulk – I’ve seen ads for Dole. I think Chiquita advertised years ago. I don’t recall seeing any of late.

      But there’s advertising and then there’s McDonald’s-style ADVERTISING. Can banana growers or even one banana grower fund the level needed to compete with that? Not when they’re selling a commodity.

    • I believe avocado growers advertise, but that might be the California department of agriculture instead. I wonder if California could shift some of its money out of water subsidies for the farmers and into advertising subsidies for them – since most of the produce comes from California, there wouldn’t be so much advertising for competitors.