This Foodie Friday Fourth of July, let’s get real about fakes. I was shopping for tomatoes the other day. They had some beautiful looking specimens at the market and I knew from a lot of sad experience that they would be tasteless. They probably came out of a hothouse hundreds of miles from where they were being sold. Unfortunately, they were typical of a lot of modern foods but they make a broader business point.
Our industrialized food production system has managed to remove a lot of the natural flavors of things. Why? Because we want things like tomatoes year-round, we have to transport them further, and in many cases, we have completely “fake” foods to which flavors n=must be added for them to taste like anything remotely worth eating. This is from a talk by a UPenn doctoral candidate:
Berenstein began by narrating synthetic flavors’ earliest and biggest coup: turning vanilla from a coveted luxury good into a synonym for the bland and everyday. For two hundred years after its introduction to the West, vanilla was a precious commodity. Artificial pollination helped increase the global supply by allowing the plant to grow outside its native Mexico, but the real turning came in the 1870s, when scientists cracked the molecular structure of vanillin—and opened the floodgates for the manufacturing of synthetic vanilla flavor.
I think fake foods and flavors have peaked because consumers want the real thing and it’s not just in their food choices. The desire for authenticity is now a constant in most businesses. Customers quickly recognize when we brands are faking it. I like this explanation from someone writing in Ad Age:
Authenticity involves an emotional connection with an audience, and that connection is forged over years through consistency. Consistency builds trust and integrity. Ignoring the reality of your audience’s world, trying to be something you’re not, or telling customers what you think they want to hear quickly deteriorates trust and erodes integrity.
When we make our businesses more efficient for us, we might just be removing the flavor the customers crave. It’s no longer real. Something that sort of tastes like what you took out what do. Like that hothouse tomato, I’m not buying. Would you?