Food Fight: Keeping Up With Consumer Health

We always seem to be in a constant war with our food. GMOs, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and pesticides have all been in the news, countered by the new wave of organic eating, juice cleanses, vegan diets, and clean recipes. But, the age-old question remains: why can’t the tasty food be good for us? Fast Food staples and big name brands may be hearing the call.

If you can believe it, Oreos have been around since before the Titanic sank in 1912. Of course, while Oreos are the perfect choice for movie night or a breakup, they aren’t exactly a dieter’s number one snack. It took almost 100 years for Oreo’s to replace trans fat with non-hydrogenated vegetable oil. Then, in 2015, Oreo Thins were introduced, the 40 calorie answer to our dreams. However, we have to ask ourselves why it took so long to make a more health conscious product.

Preceding even the Oreo is the ubiquitous Coca-Cola brand, invented in 1886. The diet counterpart wasn’t invented until 1982 when the health-conscious consumer started to emerge. And if you lived during the ‘80s, you will most likely remember the disaster of New Coke, when the company tried to reformulate the original recipe to compete with up-and-coming soft drink brands. But, this didn’t stop Coke.

In 2005, Coke Zero was put on the shelf, and in 2014, Coke Life followed suit with its natural sweeteners. This was in response to the backlash that the aspartame in Diet Coke was causing health problems. The issue remains controversial today but is superseded by the perpetual criticism of the fast food industry.

Chances are you’ve had fast food. Whether mum and dad bought you a Happy Meal on the way home from football practice or you freaked out when Burger King reintroduced its Chicken Fries, fast food has a reputation for being satisfying, and well, fast. But in their speediness, these empires have been pumping the breaks when it comes to food quality.

In the 33 years of the Chicken McNuggets, McDonald’s has made changes, now using all-white-meat, reducing antibiotics, and removing artificial preservatives. When you hear everything that’s been taken out of the purportedly natural chicken, it makes you wonder what else is still in there besides, obviously, the chicken. McDonald’s isn’t alone, though. When the aforementioned Burger King introduced Satisfries in 2013, a lower fat and fewer calorie version of their signature fries, customers turned up their noses and the product was dropped a year later.

Burger King’s example shows just how difficult it is to maintain the balance. Customers who want it all – delicious and on-the-go food that supports their health – stump food scientists and nutritionists. Sure, new advancements in natural sweeteners and nutritious supplements are being researched and tested. But this process is a long time in the making. Companies have to consider the costs of these new and likely more expensive alternatives, have to conduct taste-testing studies for new recipes, and have to market new products.

Bettering the health of its customers can actually be a risk for a company. Because as much as we claim we want to change the processed and fast food industries, we are a fickle species, sometimes stuck in our ways. I can admit that I would miss my french fries. And let’s be honest, you would take the original Oreos over the 40 calorie Thins version, too.

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