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My anger with Post has grown into OUTRAGE!!

June 14, 2011

Obviously I was angry about the Health washing that Post Cereal was doing with Great Grains.  You can read about it here, after all, it is infuriating to see big corporations throw millions of dollars at celebrities who will say what they want, never caring at all for the people who they are misleading.  It is the whole misleading thing that drives me crazy.  I am sure Great Grains is a tasty cereal and it is less processed than some, but it certainly isn’t a healthy breakfast choice, so Post, stop marketing it as if it were.

So, I am mad about the purposeful misinformation, but I what Post is up to now… well that gets me more than just mad.

Here is their press release (click on the big red logo):

Yes, Post has actually moved from a dealer to a pusher.  It might seem like a subtle distinction, but it is anything but.  You see, I am glad that there are sugary cereals in this world.  I don’t eat them all the time (obviously not, I care about my health), but every once in awhile I dig in and I love them.  If given the opportunity to have some candy or a sugary cereal, I would probably take the cereal every time.  That said, they are horrible for your health.  They are carbs wrapped in sugar, a prescription for diabetes.

So, rather than sit back and enjoy the revenue and profits from the occasional sugary cereal buyer, Post has decided instead to grow its market.  After all, they need to increase profits and some kids haven’t been introduced to the intoxicating and some say addictive power of Pebbles Treats.  What are Pebbles Treats you ask… well, they are the newest entry from Post in the exciting and lucrative Cereal Bar market.  A cereal bar is essentially cereal ingredients baked together in some syrupy coating to create a bar (you can read a description of Cereal Bars here).    The people who first invented them thought that they might be a healthy alternative to breakfast.  The problem is, cereal was supposed to be the healthy alternative to breakfast in the first place, but it has failed miserably at this as it has become a sugary carb fest with little or no fibre and no protein.  This never makes for a good meal, so here we are taking the milk out of the equation, probably the only healthy thing in most cereal breakfasts (large flake oatmeal is the exception) and then using a sugary syrup to hold these carb ingredients together and calling it a healthy alternative to breakfast….

Seriously, avoid cereal bars like the plague.  I would have to sit down for a long time to come up with a worse food alternative.  If you think you are eating healthy and you eat these, stop.  You are just sabotaging yourself and you may not even be aware of it, and we are talking about the so-called more healthy cereal bars like Quaker.  What about this new Pebbles Treats…  According to Post:

New Fruity Pebbles Treats are convenient snacks that both you and your kids will love. Your kids will love them because of their delicious fruity flavor, fun colors and marshmallowy texture. You’ll love them because of their unexpected wholesomeness with 90 calories and 6 essential vitamins. Plus, they’re gluten free. Last, but not least, they bring the fun of Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble, and the rest of THE FLINTSTONES*gang to tasty treats.

WTF!??! Seriously… you will love them because of their unexpected wholesomeness?!!?  How can that sentence even exist?  I know that I shouldn’t expect truth in advertising but seriously?!!? Is there no accountability?!??!  You realize that they are only 90 calories because they weight 22 grams….  22 grams… do you know how small that is?  1 peanut butter cup from Reese’s weighs only 21 grams.  This ‘unexpectedly wholesome’ snack is smaller than a single peanut butter cup.  1 peanut butter cup has 105 calories so they are almost identical in their caloric density.  Post essentially considers a candy bar a wholesome snack.  This is literally insane!  Anyone who even briefly views one of these snacks will immediately come to the conclusion that this cereal bar is simply a candy bar.

Just look at the ingredients on the side of the box.  You will not believe what they put into these things:

So, you say, beyond the obvious, why am I upset with Post?  According to the press release:

Post Foods has revamped their marketing strategy joining forces with a variety of unexpected, yet like-minded companies including Old Navy, 24 Hour Fitness, GladWare and Sunsweet in an effort to increase awareness and drive trial of their respective brands.

Unexpected??  Hmmm… seems I have heard that one before, and I must be honest with you, as unexpected as the word wholesome was to describe Fruity Pebbles Treats, I find the like-mindedness of this list of companies almost equally unexpected.  Post, I must say, I don’t see a lot of truth in your advertising, but I certainly have to admit, your use of unexpected is spot on.  I am guessing the ‘like-mindedness’ of these companies begins and ends with the pursuit of money.

So, the sentence above could be read as, ‘Post Foods has found a bunch of companies looking to extend their brand and make some money.  We have worked a branding deal with them just so long as they will help give us some new venues to push our unhealthy products in’.

Oh, wait, I may have jumped ahead.  Here is the next line of the press release:

Through mutually beneficial partnerships formed and brokered by Post Foods’ consumer promotions agency Eastwest Marketing Group, Post and its partners aim to provide consumers with added-value offers via promotions including retail sampling events and exclusive savings.

Yep, looks like my description is right.  When you realize that they are talking about pushing their foods on unsuspecting consumers, this whole promotional idea looks a lot predatory and not very good for anyone but Post and their partners.

Saturday, May 21, marks the last of a three-part series of in-store events during which Old Navy shoppers will be rewarded with samples of NEW Pebbles Treats.

It doesn’t seem sooo bad that Post was in Old Navy handing out snacks to kids whose parents have probably not given their children candy instead of a healthy breakfast (okay, it does), and let’s be honest here, what child does not deserve a ‘reward’ for going shopping, but when you read the next line, it appears a hell of a lot worse:

“By choosing partners that target a similar audience, Post can surprise and delight consumers in unexpected places throughout their day – not just in the cereal aisle,” said Kelly Annis, director, consumer promotions for Post Foods, LLC. “Through these sampling programs we were able to meet each partner’s marketing objectives.”

Great.  Glad you could reach each partner’s marketing objectives, but what about our health objectives or societies objective to reduce childhood obesity?  Seriously, what in the world makes you think that you’re choosing partners that target a similar audience?  Old Navy sells clothes for kids… Is that the only similarity you need?  Maybe it is cost conscious families that may be a little time limited (I think Old Navy is the value brand of the Gap, but I could be wrong, all I know is kids socks are seriously cheap there)…. You are a bunch of pushers trying to get permission to go to the school playground and push your crap on unsuspecting kids.

Seriously, Kelly Annis, did you say “Post can surprise and delight consumers in unexpected places throughout their day – not just in the cereal aisle”…  Seriously?!?!  Do you not know how bad that sounds?!?!  Is it just me or do you picture a scary man skulking around the aisles of the gap, opening up his trench coat to show multiple boxes of Pebbles cereal bars carefully concealed inside?  No, of course you don’t, because we all know, that you have to hide a drug dealer, but these sugar pushers will be cute young model wannabees, in bright t-shirts engaging parents and slipping kids boxes of the candy treats while explaining how unexpectedly wholesome they are.  To make matters worse, they were probably all selected for their petite sizes or muscular builds too and they probably would never let something like this into their bodies.

I wasn’t sure where to go with all of this anger, I tend to just burn myself out muttering, ‘What the hell’ to myself as I look over the facts, eventually becoming resigned to a world of opportunism as I settle in to watch HBO and have a bowl of ice cream along with the serving of helplessness, but this time I have some actual plans.  First, I haven’t written an open letter in a while, but here goes:

An open letter to Art Peck, President of Gap brand, North America

June 14, 2011

Dear Mr. Peck,

RE: YOUR BRANDING EVENT WITH POST CEREALS

I am very familiar with your company and your brand.  I have shopped for years at your Gap Stores and more recently, with my family at your Old Navy stores.  Your prices are fantastic.  Actually they are shockingly good on so many products that we most recently bought snow pants and jackets for the kids from your Park Royal store this winter.  I have several jackets from the Gap store and on occasion I wander around your Banana Republic store thinking I should buy one of the many very nice suits that you sell, but I always end up chickening out because I just don’t feel right in a suit.

I more recently spent some time learning about your companies commitment to the environment, to the communities in which you operate and to the workers at the factories where your clothes are manufactured and I am quite honestly impressed.  You really have reason to be proud of your track record.

So I hope you can understand how upset I felt when you allowed such a poor nutritional choice to be foisted on the families who frequent your store.  I felt betrayed when you let a company that has the audacity to call Fruity Pebbles Treats ‘unexpectedly wholesome’ search for a whole new generation of sugar junkies in your aisles.  I understand that you do not handle every aspect of your companies marketing, but it is clear that you have chosen staff who do an exceptional job in the marketing department and have done an incredible job year after year.  These people are not stupid and they had to have been aware of the duplicitous seeming marketing that is required to make Fruity Pebbles Snacks appear healthy.

I do appreciate that amongst the many passions that your company supports as charities, a healthy community is not one of them.  There is nothing wrong with that, as you have to pick the charities and ideals you are going to support and you should never apologize for not being able to get behind every cause.  Still, I do wonder if you are not actually hurting your own shoppers by partnering with Post Cereals, exposing them to unnecessary marketing within your aisles.  I am sure you wouldn’t allow cigarette companies to hand out free samples in your store, yet it is becoming apparent that sugar laden items like this snack bar may very well be as dangerous for our health as cigarettes.

I am proposing at the very least, that you consult with nutritionists and experts before making food branding deals in the future and that you do not partner with any product that these experts suggest is unhealthy to children.  Two experts I would recommend are Dr. Barry Sears author of The Zone Diet, or Keri Gans, ADA Spokesperson.  I am sure they could help you establish a small group of experts who could easily assist you in not making such poor choices in the future.

On a more personal note, I am proposing a branding partnership between yourself and some healthy food companies that I would broker.  I could put together some healthy and quick breakfasts recipes along with tips and advice.  These recipes could include coupons for your products as well as coupons for products used in the breakfasts and these could be distributed in your stores to help your patrons to live healthy active lives.

I thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I wish you a successful 2011.

Sincerely,

Mark Vaughan, author of ‘You Are Not A Fit Person’

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