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Spin, Spin, Spin

Last week in the grocery store, I noticed a new breakfast cereal from a popular brand.  The new kid on the block, let's call it "Plus", claims to satisfy your hunger.  Presumably, this means you will eat less.   Good idea.  Some of the newest research, particularly on artificial sweeteners suggest that because your appetite isn't satisfied, you may eat more, or snack more between meals.

A look at "Plus" versus the regular cereal from the same company shows the price per 100 grams (It's a Canadian thing!) is $1.30/100 gr against $1.50 per 100 gr.  I'm liking this more!

But then I checked the serving size.  "Plus" is over 50 grams whereas the regular is less than 30 grams for the same size serving.  Since we judge portions by how full our dish is (see Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink) that means that whatever your helping size, you are eating nearly twice as much, by weight, in a helping of "Plus".  Cost per serving? 70¢ for "Plus" as opposed to only 44¢ for the regular.  So per helping, the cost is 60% more!

And that's not the only cost.  Side by side highlights of the nutrition label shows that "Plus" has 200 calories per serving but regular only has 110.  That's 82% more calories.  Now, I know there is every kind of diet advice out there, but the simplest rule is that if you are going to eat a calorie, you need to burn a calorie through activity to offset it.  Remember Dave's First Rule -- "Your lips are the gatekeepers of your hips", also known as "If you don’t eat it, you won’t wear it."  Keep in mind that an extra 80 calories means about an extra 15 minutes walking to even things out.

Also, "Plus" has about 50% more sodium per serving, and almost a whole tablespoon more sugar (glucose and fructose).  The regular stuff had no fat, whereas the new has about a gram per serving, one fifth of which is saturated.  Not much fat, but not necessary.   The extra sugar accounts for over half of the increase in calories.  The rest of the calories come from the added fat, about 10% of the increase, and from increased bran and other complex carbs.

So, in summary, they sell you more calories, and salt, a little bit of fat, a tablespoon of sugar plus a few more ingredients and a tablespoon of bran, for about 25¢ per serving more.

If you buy the old stuff, and add your own sugar and bran if you wish, you can control your sugar intake and save both calories and cash.

Sugar costs about 1½¢ per tablespoon at grocery prices.  A tablespoon of bran costs about 10¢.  That means that the cereal maker, who is buying at much lower than retail costs is making a huge markup while turning the tables and telling you that they are selling you sugar and fat for your own good.

Am I missing something, or is it just Spin?


In Plus' defense, there's probably more processing that goes into producing it as opposed to the original. In addition to that, there was the R&D, market research, quality control, focus groups, etc etc etc. I'm not sure how much these things cost, but if the original has been around for a while, then the initial investment has probably already paid for itself, and the increased cost per serving is taking care of the initial product cost.On the other hand, the market really doesn't need yet another Calorie dense food that will pretty much just make our already obese population even more so. Maybe the people likely to buy this should save a lot of money and just eat the 10c per tbsp bran and call it good!

Missing something? No, you nailed it right on the head. As Michael Pollan points out (and I seem to recall it mentioned in Wansink's book as well, but I could be wrong), food companies can't make more money unless they sell you more food, especially with more processing in it. That's why Cap'n Crunch costs more than corn flakes. I'm not surprised at all to hear about "Plus". That's why one of Pollan's rules for food is to "avoid food products that make health claims". If they have to prove it's healthy, it probably isn't. I mean, who ever questioned the health benefits of a carrot, right?

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