Food companies spend big money to achieve 'homemade' look as consumers drift from overly processed fare
NEW YORK — Here's the latest goal for food makers: Perfect the art of imperfection.
When stretching out the dough for its premium “Artisan Pizzas,” Domino's workers are instructed not to worry about making rectangles too perfect: The pies are supposed to have a rustic look.
At McDonald's, egg whites for the breakfast sandwich Egg White Delight McMuffin have a loose shape rather than round discs like those used in the original Egg McMuffin.
Kraft Foods took more than two years to develop a process to make thick, uneven slabs of turkey in its Carving Board line look like leftovers from a homemade meal rather than cookie-cutter ovals typical of most lunchmeat.
“The goal is to get the same action as if you were cutting with a knife,” said Paul Morin, a Kraft engineer.
Food companies are responding to the adage that people eat with their eyes. Americans love their fast food and packaged snacks, but they're increasingly turning their noses up at foods that look overly processed. Home-cooked meals — or ones that look homemade — are seen as more wholesome and authentic.
The result is that companies are tossing out the identical shapes and drab colors that scream of factory conveyor belts. There's no way to measure exactly how much food makers are investing to make products look more natural or fresh. But they consider the pursuit necessary to fuel steady growth.
Over the past five years, the overall packaged-food industry in North America grew 14 percent to $392.5 billion, according to market researcher Euromonitor International. The fast-food industry rose 13 percent to $225.6 billion.
In many cases, food products get their wholesome appearance because of different or stripped-down ingredients companies use to make them more natural, said Michael Cohen, a visiting assistant professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. In other cases, companies make tweaks to achieve a desired look.
“Food manufacturers are adapting by the way they mold the product or the end color or texture they want the product to be,” he said.
Appearances always were a part of food production. But some experts say visual cues food makers use to suggest products are wholesome confuse people about what's natural and what isn't.
“They can't change the fact that they're making processed products, so they have to use these other tricks to pretend,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and author of “Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back.”
A little dressing up can work. Bernell Dorrough, 31, a web marketing coordinator in the Mobile, Ala., area, recently opted for store brand lunchmeat at a Publix supermarket in part because the slices came loosely packed in folds rather than in the traditional tight stacks.
“I know it wasn't hand-sliced, but something about the aesthetic quality appealed to me,” he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Amazon.com distribution center planned for Pittsburgh’s West End
- Morgan Stanley settles for $275M
- Dunkin’ pushes cashiers to ‘upsell’
- GM profit 2Q falls 85% on recall costs
- IMF cuts U.S., global growth forecasts for ’14
- EQT posts $110.9 million profit in latest quarter
- 3 ways to dig up dirt on people
- Smartphone coupons just one way stores aim to increase spontaneous buys
- Income inequality narrower under Obama, analysis concludes
- Durbin warns Walgreen against move
- Employers start to feel wage pressures