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FDA Nutrition Label Violates Basic Rules of Messaging

When I sit down with a new client to talk about go-to-market strategy, I ask two questions: Does your customer value your product and does your marketing message consistently communicate that value? If the answer to both is truly yes, then we can proceed to talk about marketing programs and marketing and sales channel strategies.

If the product is not valued by customers, then there is no point in discussing going to market. If the marketing message is not effective, the next step is to develop a new marketing program that consistently communicates the client’s message across all of the client company’s divisions and across all channels.

If my client were the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), I’d agree with their assessment that their messaging needs improvement. In fact, it needs more than improvement, it needs a complete new approach – an approach that supports and does not contradict the rest of the government’s message about weight management.

Government’s Legitimate Interest in Obesity Epidemic

There is an epidemic of obesity in this country. It’s overwhelming our health care system and damaging our national security. The government does have a vital role to play – but neither as a scold or an enabler. Government agencies must present information – scientific, reliable, objective – in a clear and consistent manner so that consumers can make good decisions.

When government agencies act without coordinating their efforts, the citizen does not know what to believe. If the messages seems too contradictory, citizens either hear only the part of the message they like or ignore the information entirely.

That’s bad.

FDA Contradicts Other Government Agencies

If I were working with the FDA to improve their nutrition messaging, I’d be impertinent enough to ask if they had coordinated their nutrition message with their government partners – the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • The NIH has recently focused on restricting sugar intake (28 grams a day) – less than found in 8 ounces of orange juice
  • The CDC warns excess salt and fats can lead to either – or both – acute and chronic disease
  • The USDA focuses on the Food Plate as a tool to improve the national diet – through food distribution programs, school lunch and nutrition assistance programs plus consumer, parent, and classroom education programs.

The FDA proposed nutrition labeling offers a contradictory message from these other agencies in regards to weight management. Their proposal presents an unusual logic: Americans eat more than ever before; therefore, the food label serving size should be increased and calories per serving recalculated to reflect the larger serving.

Perhaps the FDA’s true intent is not contradictory but the message most certainly is.

Serving Size

Portion control is all about the correct serving size. The current FDA nutritional label on all packaged foods reflects the serving size, nutrition and calories USDA scientists have found to be healthy – presented as the Food Plate. Recently released statistics covering the last 5 years find that the USDA approach is beginning to show results – at least in the first 5 years of life.

While the USDA communicates a clear message, this government arm has no power to regulate the flow of nutritional information beyond programs assigned to them by Congress. As soon as the individual food ingredients are combined into a product, the responsibility for safety and nutritional labeling moves to the FDA.

The FDA regulates the definition of serving size of processed foods. The FDA, also, regulates importation of processed foods.

Message Discipline Gets Results

In the 21st century no American or global company could survive with a similar lack of message discipline. First, the seeming contradiction in the message, not the intent, is confusing. Confused customers are lost customers. Next, if this approach did not confuse customers – and trust me, it does – contradictory messaging is too expensive to develop and deploy.

That is why successful multi-division, multiple product line companies have marketing steering committees that meet regularly to review all draft marketing programs – to insure consistent messaging, protection of the brand, and to share tools, techniques and data that avoid duplicate effort and expense. It should be no different in the US government.

If such a cross-government messaging steering committee existed across the agencies charged with the health and well-beginning of all Americans, the FDA labeling initiative and the USDA Food Plate would be integrated. Not only would the message be clearer and more consistent but it would prove the third axiom of marketing – a picture is worth a thousand words.

A picture might, also, be worth a few million pounds?


If you agree with me take a moment to share your thoughts with the Food and Drug Administration as well as your representatives in Congress.

Photo Credit: Food and Drug Administration

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2021-02-01T13:43:52+00:00March 25th, 2014|Comments Off on FDA Nutrition Label Violates Basic Rules of Messaging

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