business news in context, analysis with attitude

USA Today reports this morning that “if 2009's hottest sales pitch was all about buying stuff on the cheap, 2010 marketing will increasingly stress less as more, as in fewer parts, additives or ingredients. While the trend is taking hold in many product categories, including health and beauty items, nowhere is it more apparent than with things we eat and drink ... Consumers these days not only want to know what's in the stuff they eat and drink — they want to know what's not.

“In a nation bedeviled by a whirlwind of food scares and mounting worries about the healthiness of a plethora of things commonly used in processed foods, folks increasingly are demanding cleaner food labels: no artificial food colorings (some of which have been linked to hyperactivity in children), no chemical additives (such as MSG) and no chemical preservatives (such as BHA). If they can't pronounce it, consumers don't want it.”

Mintel’s Lynn Dornblaser tells the paper that simplified products will be more popular in 2010 than “organic,” “natural” or even “local” products...and that there have been definable decreases in the average number of ingredients in more than 19 product segments.

However, nutrition experts such as Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan caution that simplified products are only better for consumers if they are simplified nutritious products, as opposed to snack foods that aren’t any healthier even if the number of ingredients has been reduced.
KC's View:
First of all, it is important to keep all this stuff in context - so many of these things are marketing buzzwords, and it is hard to assess whether these are actual trends or just blips on the radar that may not mean anything long-term. One can hope that they do, but it is hard to know and harder not to be cynical.

That said, maybe there is something going on here.

There is a terrific column in the Wall Street Journal this morning by Joseph B. White, in which he writes of having simplified his life by moving out of the suburbs and into the city.

“Boomer professionals like me are destined to find our life choices reduced to marketing archetypes,” White writes. “My new life evidently makes me part of a trend. I am a New Urbanist, a Third Life Boomer or, to the green movement, an exemplar of the new sustainable lifestyle who leaves a lighter, smaller carbon footprint on our planet by driving less, walking more and forgoing the energy-intensive life that goes with owning an edge-city McMansion and two sport-utility vehicles—or in my case, an 80-year-old house in suburban Detroit and a turbo-charged Japanese hotrod with a fuel economy rating of just 20 miles per gallon.

“Selling my Subaru WRX earlier this month and moving to a loft in the city has changed my life in ways I am still discovering.”

Not that I am a paradigm or indicator of anything, but I read those words and yearn to make the same sort of decision. Getting rid of the house and the car and all the stuff that goes with it, and moving to a loft in the city (Seattle? Portland?) sounds really good. Maybe it is age, but a simplified life seems like a really good idea...and just maybe it is a reflection of a broader inclination in this country.