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“Man Food”, “Woman Food”: A Very Profitable Food Industry Scam

When it comes to marketing food, sex sells.  Well, gender, really.

Food companies love to market what I refer to as “gendered foods”; that is, products that perpetuate the classic (and socially constructed) “this is for boys, this is for girls” dichotomy.

Despite their proclamations of “addressing a particular concern” to a particular segment of the population, these gendered products are, in all actuality, “unisex” ones backed with highly gendered marketing campaigns.  In a 2009 post, I briefly touched upon “his” and “hers” vitamins.  This time around, let’s examine three of the bigger gendered food players.

Luna Bars: With its “The Whole Nutrition Bar For Women” slogan, the Luna Bar makes no bones about its target audience.  The lunar symbolism and female silhouettes engaging in what appears to be a combination of yoga, pilates, and ballet on the product packaging hammer the “this is for women!” message.

According to the company’s website, “Luna Bar… was created to meet the special needs of our bodies.  Created by and for women, LUNA bars were the first bar just for us, with the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to stay healthy.”

Of note are the featured nutrients: protein, fiber, calcium, folic acid, and vitamins A, C, and E.

The only nutrient from that list that I can make the vaguest feminine link to is folic acid, since it is crucial in helping prevent fetal spine abnormalities during the first few weeks of a woman’s pregnancy.  Of course, folic acid (called folate in its food form) also has many other functions (including red blood cell formation), and is therefore equally as important for men.  In fact, men have the exact same requirement for it as adult women who are not pregnant.

As for protein, fiber, and vitamins A, C, and E: there is no difference between men’s and women’s daily requirements.  Calcium requirements are the same for men and women except for the 51- 70 age group (men have a recommendation of 1,000 milligrams, while women’s is set at 1,200 milligrams).

The Luna bar is not as much about meeting women’s nutritional needs as it is about the Clif Bar company seeing a huge untapped market (prior to the Luna Bar, the “protein bar” sector was heavily male and bodybuilder-oriented).

Pria Bars: The Power Bar company’s competitor to the Luna Bar, its website specifically makes mention of the 4 -5 grams of soy protein included in the bars (an ingredient women are supposed to “feel good about”).  The presence of sketchy soy protein isolate aside, I guess the advertising team isn’t aware that the isoflavones in soy (especially when consumed from whole food sources like tempeh, edamame, and natto) has also been shown to help lower the risk of prostate cancer.

Ah, but this is the good ol’ US of A, where “soy is for sissies” and “steak is for studs”.  Silly me!

Wheaties Fuel:

“By champions, for champions.  The new Wheaties FUEL was co-created with a team of today’s elite champions including Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols, Kevin Garnett, Bryan Clay, and Hunter Kemper. Working with Dr. John Ivy, a performance nutrition expert, the Co-Creation Team designed Wheaties FUEL for the active individual; whether that activity is due to participation in athletics, work related activities or leisure time physical pursuits.”

In other words, “this is a man’s cereal”.  To drive the point home, most Wheaties Fuel boxes feature stern-looking athletes on the box (real men don’t smile, don’t you know?).

So what did the aforementioned rough and tough Co-Creation Team come up with, anyway?  Testosterone in a box?  Far from it.  This is your standard sugary cereal — in fact, it delivers over a tablespoon of added sugar per three-quarter cup serving.  That’s more than Lucky Charms, Trix, or Froot Loops!  In fact, sugar appears on the ingredient list on five occasions: as sugar, honey, brown sugar syrup, barley malt extract, and corn syrup solids.

This is, not surprisingly, explained away under the illusion of  athletic fuel — more specifically, “athletes and active individuals need a high amount of carbohydrate in their diet, and breakfast should provide a high percentage of this carbohydrate.”

That quote, by the way, comes from Dr Ivy’s defense explanation of Wheaties Fuel’s nutritional profile. You know you’ve got problems when you need a doctor to write out a 2-page document explaining why your mediocre Nutrition Facts label isn’t so mediocre.  The additional carbohydrate angle begs the question: is adding a sliced banana to a much less sugary cereal — or oatmeal, for heaven’s sake — out of the question?

Nutrition is an equal-opportunity player.  Regardless of our hormonal makeup, we all need the same macro and micronutrients.  Sure, women of childbearing age have higher iron needs than men and postmenopausal women, but it’s worth noting that “female foods” rarely address that issue.  A Luna bar, for instance, provides 30% of the Daily Value of iron.  A 1-cup serving of “unisex” Cheerios, meanwhile, offers 49% of the Daily Value.

And so we come to an all-too-familiar conclusion: good nutrition transcends all biological markers and social constructs.

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4 Comments

  1. Kristen said on April 26th, 2011

    Unfortunately, I see the same marketing schemes being used in the fitness and supplement industry as well — GNC’s line of protein powders specifically “designed” for women, for example, make it sound as if any regular old protein powder wouldn’t suffice for a woman’s nutritional needs. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Andy Bellatti said on April 26th, 2011

    Kristen,

    Very good point about the supplement industry — I would even say that is more artificially gendered than food.

  3. Tita Barbosa said on April 26th, 2011

    Excelente artìculo, muy claro e interesante. Es increìble lo que puede hacer el marketing y como la gente (alguna) se deja influenciar por esto que no es màs que un gran negocio y dejan de lado lo màs importante que es la verdad de la nutriciòn de cada dìa.

  4. Lauren said on April 26th, 2011

    Ugh, now you’ve got me all riled up before bedtime. :) I hate gender marketing.

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