Online Program

Food illusionists: The absence of choice in the grocery store

Monday, November 2, 2015 : 2:45 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Patty Lovera, MS, Food and Water Watch, Washington, DC

Consumers are more interested than ever in knowing what is in their food and how it was produced. They want less processed, more sustainable and healthier food choices, but the handful of food processing companies that dominate the grocery store make it increasingly difficult for consumer to make meaningful choices in the grocery store.

Food & Water Watch studied the sales in 100 grocery categories and found that major food manufacturers sell the vast majority of foods, often using an umbrella of brands that can conceal which firms produce the foods. The top four food processing companies make nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the sales in each grocery category and in a third of these grocery categories, the top four firms control at least 75 percent of the sales.

In many cases, the proliferation of food company brands gives the illusion of consumer choice. For example, most margarine is manufactured by just two companies, but is marketed under a host of different brands. In other cases, consumers seeking a more healthy option cannot tell by the labels that cereals marketed as natural or even organic are owned by large mainstream companies.

Currently, we are in the midst of a wave of food company mergers that is further consolidating the food system. This merger mania is making it increasingly difficult for consumers to make meaningful choices at the supermarket, despite the illusion of choice presented in marketing campaigns.


Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Explain how the proliferation of consumer brands does not actually represent true diversity in the types of food choices available to consumers.

Keyword(s): Nutrition, Behavioral Research

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the food policy director for Food & Water Watch and coordinate the team that conducts our research into market share, and also frequently speak to the public about these issues.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.