Should your weight loss program be run by a giant candy and ice cream company?
A lot of people apparently think so – because Jenny (formerly Jenny Craig), one of the nation’s three largest weight loss businesses, is owned and operated by Nestle, which is both the world’s largest candy company and the world’s largest ice cream company (their brands include the famously fattening Haagen Dazs)– bigger than all of its competitors including Hershey, Cadbury and Breyer’s. (Note: Nestle also owns the well-known liquid diet product Optifast, so they’re really doubling down here).
It seems almost too diabolical and cynical to be true. But Nestle has, in fact, found a way to profit by making you fat, and then charging you later to help you try to get skinny. Even if the Jenny program works for you in the short term (I’ll reserve my comments on the quality of this program for now — See Blog Post: Are You Training to be an Astronaut?), you can be sure that they’ll be right there with some candy and ice cream to sell you after you’re done!
So, if things work out the way Nestle would like – you’ll get fat, get skinny, get fat again, and so on, in a never ending cycle of profit for them. While this certainly reflects a sort of perverse “genius” of customer manipulation and exploitation, it is extraordinary that a company can get away with this in plain view. (And let’s be fair – Slimfast, another well-known weight loss program, is owned by packaged global food giant Unilever, so Nestle isn’t the only one working both sides of the fence).
But it’s not that they’re necessarily evil. Beyond the single-minded pursuit of growth and profit, this really speaks to an inadequacy of their corporate mission and values, and a fundamental lack of sincere concern for their customers at a human level. Their objective is simply to sell more packaged food for more profit, whatever that food may be — whether fattening or “diet”. So, with that mindset, it just wouldn’t occur to them that selling diet foods conflicts with selling unhealthy, fattening foods. They probably use corporate-speak and call it “synergy”, which makes it sound quite acceptable and even brilliant – the management consultants and board of directors are all applauding.
Nonetheless, this massive contradiction has not gone entirely unnoticed by them, especially of late. In fact, this realization likely resulted in their public relations-driven exercise of claiming a new nutrition-oriented market positioning, hoping to create the veneer of corporate responsibility and to combat the criticism they should rightly anticipate and seem to have miraculously avoided. Indeed, recent proclamations and investments to position themselves as a ”therapeutic nutrition company” would be welcome, if the company wasn’t already A GLOBAL LEADER in the very business that has contributed to nutrition-driven diseases for which they are now hoping to develop nutritional solutions – such as high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. Remember, it is not like they simultaneously offered to shut down these other businesses selling unhealthy food. This is like the world’s largest tobacco company announcing that they will now be selling nicotine replacement and lung cancer drugs, and suddenly claiming to be all about health — while still happily and aggressively selling cigarettes.
I can just hear the indignation at Nestle headquarters – “people have the right to eat what they want, and who are we to stop them from eating our junk food? What about personal responsibility? We can’t help it if people overeat.” I’m ALL for personal responsibility, and I would agree that people should make better choices, saying “no” to Nestle products in particular with greater frequency. But Nestle’s hypothetical argument does not really hold, since –
- we’re hardwired to eat high carbohydrate, high fat and high salt foods when available (a vestige of our ancestors who might take days to find calorie stores),
- the massive industrial food distribution system has overwhelmed healthy options with cheap unhealthy options — foods “engineered” by companies like Nestle to appeal to us and packaged to get our attention and money,
- whole generations have lived with incorrect nutrition information and as the recipients of non-stop consumer marketing FROM THEM, and
- Nestle and its industry counterparts are indeed working VERY hard to get you to eat their food, and LOTS of it – in fact Nestle alone spent $8.9 Billion in consumer marketing across all of their businesses in just the first half of 2011
Leaving aside the viability of Jenny as a weight loss program (I’ll discuss packaged food programs in another blog), as a matter of principle and out of refusal to be manipulated by an industrial food giant that cares more about getting your money than the impact of their food on your health, you might want to give some thought to exactly who sponsors the weight loss approach you select.
Paul Amoruso, CEO