It’s no surprise or any kind of epiphany that consumer package goods companies follow the lead of what its primary customers need and want. It’s a duh, I know. Every CPG I’ve ever worked with has female purchasers at the top of their target lists — complete with massive efforts like that of the WalMart Moms and the 1:1 online targeting from P&G and J&J. It seems than any company with an ampersand knows how important it is to target moms online. Marketing to moms is compelling, but its the history of moms directing the goods that fascinates me.
Last weekend I made brunch for a friend’s 40th birthday. I found a Sunset Magazine from the month he was born: August 1970. I was ready for quiche recipes, maybe some heavy sauces, I could slow roast or even make fondue. I was wrong. What I found was a clue to the way women’s changing lives 40 years ago shaped the future of the consumer packaged goods industry.
In the early 1970s, the Women’s Movement had moved from the Mad Men phase into a wide, strong, changing world, led by some of my icons that I was lucky enough to meet, including Betty Friedan and Shirley Chisholm. As middle-class women aggressively hit the workforce, consumer packaged goods had to scramble to modify their products in order to shift focus from June Cleaver to June Sells Cleavers for Equal Pay.
“I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let you forget you’re a man, because I’m a woman, W.O.M.A.N., ” sang Peggy Lee (and Miss Piggy). And indeed they could. But quick frying bacon would have been helpful. Oh, and a microwave. Women needed food that was economical with a quick prep time. These working women still had their homemaker duties in full-swing. The food industry needed to respond to the change. Food companies catapulted themselves into the new focus of low prep meals including the launch of Hamburger Helper, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Betty Crocker ready-to-eat pudding and the “new” fad of instant iced tea mix. Instantly, meals were on the table — and along with it, the children of America began eating processed foods with staggering growth.
Four decades later, the Hamburger HelpHER revolution has resulted in the widely known epidemic of both childhood and adult obesity. Was it the price that parents paid for the women’s movement? Maybe.
The same revolution is happening now at a great and growing pace. Companies are sporting nutrition for children that are actually — stop, gasp — nutritious. Children are being taught at an early age about the importance and ramifications of their diets; and, surprisingly, being given the power to make many of these choices on their own. Ask my kids if they want mac ‘n’cheese and they’ll always say yes, but it’s Annie Mac n’ Cheese, nothing powdered, and, they’ll tell you they are eating carbohydrates, fat and dairy. Give them a chance and they’ll tell you their favorite “superfoods” (blueberries for her, broccoli for him).
I saw savvy, educated kids in action at a Cliff/Luna Bar event in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. The kids spent time planting home gardens, showing off yoga poses and sharing food knowledge. They listened intently, but they listened with the intensity of agreement, not that of learning something new. I chatted with the Cliff lead nutritionist who came with LapTop lunch boxes for kids to decorate and talked about their commitment to healthy quick food. The consumer packaged goods companies are at it again: reaching us where we need them to. We all aspire to live the Cliff/Luna lifestyle of sports, food, fun and giving.
My life as a working mom means butt-busting, speed-of-light work around the clock. It means I, like June Cleaver, have a responsibility to put food on my family table. But I want more than that: I want it to feed us, not just put food in our stomachs. The influence of women on the food industry in the 70s leaves a legacy of quick rising yeast, instant hot chocolate, Bisquick and J-ello. What is the legacy that we, as mothers in 2010,will leave on the food industry?
I was not paid for any marketing or promotion of materials or goods for any company listed above. I did, however, have a great day with the women from Cliff/Luna and ate a casesar wrap and one (okay, two) oatmeal rasin moonpies.