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Food news

  • June 7, 2014 - 6:13 PM

Skip healthy food sales pitches

One of the fiercest marketing battles in the world takes place in homes across the world. The sellers are parents, trying to persuade children to eat their vegetables.

Now, new research shows why parents — and food marketers — might be doing themselves no favors. The problem is the pitch: It is too aggressive, even at its most well-meaning and heartfelt. The best way to pitch food to children, the research finds, is to present it with no marketing message whatsoever.

Don’t tell them it’s healthy or it will make them smart or strong. Telling them it’s yummy is OK, but even that message doesn’t seem to help the cause. “You just need to give them the food. You mess them up by giving all kinds of messages,” said the paper’s co-author, Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The findings, to be published in October in Journal of Consumer Research, offer insight not only into children’s decisionmaking around food, but also, more broadly, into the powerful and counterintuitive ways that overzealous marketing can misfire — with adults and children alike.

USDA says porcine virus is spreading

A deadly disease has spread to more than 4,700 U.S. hog operations and that number is growing by as much as 200 every week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday. The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PED, has killed about 8 million pigs since the outbreak began in May 2013.

The spreading virus sent retail pork chops to an all-time high of $4.044 a pound in April, the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show, and the American Farm Bureau Federation has said that meat expenses are going to keep climbing. Costs are rising before the start of the seasonal peak in U.S. meat demand, as a shrinking cattle herd sent ground beef to a record, while whole chickens are near the highest ever.

“People are going to have to pay up for this summer’s barbecues, because of the current supply issues,” said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at National Securities Corp. in New York. “People are going to eat more meat during the summer grilling season, so it’s fair to say that they are going to pay higher prices.”

Soil sensor may ease food deficits

A lemon tree springs from the soil in Jason Aramburu’s back yard in Berkeley, Calif., alongside strawberry plants and squash blossoms. The garden is thriving, but its upkeep requires almost no effort from Aramburu. A foot-high soil sensor does much of the work.

The plastic-and-stainless-steel device, topped by a tiny solar panel, determines the amount of water to be delivered to the garden each day, using Aramburu’s Wi-Fi network to communicate with a valve attached to his irrigation system. If the air is humid, or if rain is forecast, the valve limits or cuts off the supply. If the soil lacks nutrients, Aramburu receives an alert on a smartphone app telling him to add fertilizer.

The soil sensor and the water valve are Aramburu’s creations; he will soon begin selling them through his new company, Edyn. He also intends to sell sensors to farmers in developing nations at a low cost to help them grow food more efficiently and sustainably.

Through Edyn, the 29-year-old Aramburu is trying to tackle the problems of drought and the global food shortage. Although the concept of for-profit companies addressing social issues isn’t new, entrepreneurs with a flair for humanitarianism were stymied by capital constraints until fairly recently. “They didn’t have access to the capital pools to start encouraging them, nurturing them and helping them think about what it takes to scale their businesses,” said Allen S. Grossman, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School.

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