31 January 2011

USA Today names flexitarian one of the '10 Marketing Trends' for 2011

Bruce Horovitz of USA Today recently wrote an article covering the 10 marketing trends popping up in 2011. On the same list as timesavers, such as microwavable popcorn that comes in its own bowl, and the experience of feeling clean, exemplified by toothpastes that tingle to trick the consumer into thinking one's teeth feel clean, Horovitz mentions, “Flexitarians R Us.” He writes that companies marketing vegetarian foods notice the bulk of their sales come from occasional meat eaters.

A flexitarian is essentially that: An occasional meat eater who, for various reasons such as health and environment, eats mostly vegetarian cuisine. This trend may have those positive aspects, and it certainly reduces demand for placing animals on plates. It also adds incentive for restaurants to provide vegetarian options. These options give more people the experience of eating vegetarian cuisine, making the jump to becoming vegan easier than ever.

The problem is the product Horovitz uses to exemplify the flexitarian trend: MorningStar Farms® bacon, egg & cheese biscuits. After enriched flour and water, the first ingredients are scrambled eggs (made with various egg and milk ingredients) and cheddar cheese.

While the biscuit drops the bacon for TVP, it is not clear where the benefit is. As a product that is mostly made up of egg and cheese, it has roughly the same amount of calories per gram as a Big Mac. Though it does have comparatively less fat, the biscuit is not exactly a health food: What it provides most to one's diet is sodium and saturated fat. It's a packaged, shipped animal product, from a company that's merely “exploring” cage-free solutions for its egg sourcing.

One wonders where this product fits in with the flexitarian rationale. Who is the market for this? According to the company's website, it's not even certified kosher. Why was this product chosen over MorningStar Farms®' sesame chik'n, veggie patties, or BBQ riblets?

The other example products that made it onto Horovitz' list only offer tenuous and illusory benefits: seasonings for “homemade” food, whitening strips that work over the course of two hours instead of three weeks, and a $30 face-cleaning brush. Maybe these products can be read as an articulation of consumer demand. Maybe they are offering customers what they really, deep down, want. (To impress friends with homemade food, feel healthy and environmentally responsible, and add more free time to our busy lives? Yes, please.) But Horovitz' article doesn't ask if we would be better off saving time by watching less TV, experiencing clean teeth by actually having them cleaned, or substituting the animal products on our plates with something besides other animal products. (And impressing our friends with homemade food by using freely available recipes.) Maybe we are better off making some effort to improve our lives, instead of deceiving ourselves through these products.

Michael Schnier
Michael went vegan in May of 2010 while shopping for his weekly groceries. Michael is a communications studies undergrad at Carleton University and spends too much of his time arguing on the internet. When not butting heads, Michael can be found reading Vertigo comics, listening to the Smiths, and writing bad poetry. Follow Michael on his Tumblr blog.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/jmcphers