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Nutrition in America

September 28, 1977 — Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing, Consumer Relations and Nutrition, US House of Representatives, Washington DC


My name is Beatrice Marks. I am a vice president of Botsford Ketchum, an advertising and public relations agency.

I would like to thank the Chairman and members of this Subcommittee for providing this opportunity for the expression of our views. I hope that my experiences in nutrition education will provide a useful perspective for your consideration.

I supervise the consumer-directed public relations programs for Botsford Ketchum, which has many food clients. I also work very closely with our advertising people.

I’d like to show you one way we found to teach a couple of nutrition facts.


Voice Over America loves potatoes.
But is afraid to eat them.
Afraid they have no food value.
Afraid they have few vitamins.
Afraid that they are — fattening.

Fear no more, America, a medium — sized baked
potato contains only 90 calories, plus
Vitamin C, iron, B1, and other nourishing goodies.

So . . . mash ’em, hash ’em, slice ’em,
dice ’em, take ’em and bake ’em.
You have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

Now that’s an educational message that makes a clear and memorable point.

And it’s just one part of an advertising and public relations program for our client, The Potato Board. This is a program that has not only taught a basic nutrition principle, but has also taught consumers how to put that principle into practice.

This is a program that is already considered a classic. It’s used as a teaching case study at the Harvard School of Business and the Harvard School of Public Health. It’s an example that others could well emulate.

It started as a sad story just a few years ago, when the potato was neglected and misunderstood — maligned as fattening , shunned because of the fear of carbohydrates that was being spread by fad diet promoters.

Here was just the kind of food Americans should eat more of, suffering from misinformed public opinion.

For, unfortunately, although most legitimate efforts at teaching nutrition had accomplished little, the faddists made good use of the media and were very successful in getting their ideas across. After all, the typical overweight consumer would rather buy a book that offers promises promises — than face the facts of counting calories.

We felt that misconceptions were the major marketing barrier potatoes faced.

We didn’t know how bad it was until we completed our base line consumer attitude and usage study in 1973.

We found that:

—     About a third of those surveyed felt potatoes had “too many calories.” This was the primary reason given for low or reduced consumption.

—     Barely, over half thought of potatoes as “nutritious.”

—     Only slightly more than a third thought of potatoes as a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Our research told us that people liked potatoes but were afraid to eat them.

We talked to nutritionists and determined that tackling the problem head on, concentrating on fighting the misconceptions would be the best course to recommend.

Instead of hard product sell for immediate results, we proposed a long range education program that linked the potato to important nutrition concepts that needed teaching. In many of its aspects the program we were recommending would do as much to teach the nutrition facts about the role of carbohydrates in the diet, as it would to sell potatoes.

The Potato Board agreed. The growers of potatoes are remarkable men of great good will. They loved the idea of helping the public to a better understanding of nutrition and the potato. The Board and its Executive Vice President, Robert Mercer, deserve great credit also for their vision and faith that allowed them to see how much could be accomplished.

When we decided to take this approach — telling the truth about the potato — and nutrition, we were able to receive great support from another sector, the nutrition community.

We were fortunate to have as our consultant, the nutrition author, Ronald M. Deutsch, who wrote the report of the panel on deception and misinformation of the White Conference on Nutrition. He helped us to mobilize outstanding nutrition authorities who would help the Board’s efforts in many ways.

When nutritionists learned of our program, we found that they often used the potato as an example in their writing and lectures. They graciously took part in our seminars for editors , and set a standard of excellence for us to follow.

Credit, too, goes to Botsford Ketchum. I’m proud of the fact that everyone stuck with the difficult job of treating the nutrition statements with great respect for the facts, with meticulous attention to accuracy of meaning so as not to mislead or misinform.

You know, it’s a lot easier to sell the sizzle than nutrition and yet, with all of the severe restrictions our advertising people produced award winning ads. Television commercials, print ads and entire campaigns won prestigious advertising awards, nutrition awards and even marketing awards. It was, and is, advertising that is truthful, factual and convincing.

The necessarily brief ad messages were backed up and expanded by public relations programs. Many unusual tools and techniques were developed to explain the nutrition principles and how they applied to potatoes.

The Potato Lovers’ Diet Cookbook which was promoted on TV by appearances of its author so that consumers could see that she had really lost over 100 pounds while still eating potatoes and a balanced diet.

Newspaper publicity materials were designed to help the busy newspaper editor to write interestingly and well about this difficult subject and to tell her readers how to cook dishes and plan meals that would apply the nutrition information.

Faddists were getting a lot of publicity in magazines, so we had editor seminars so they could learn the truth about fad diets and nutrition. They met expert panelists — who became unimpeachable resources for checking stories and facts. Now, more and more magazines are running nutritionally sound diet features — with potatoes in their balanced diets. And several magazines have devoted an entire month’s food section to the potato, its value and ways to use it.

The Potato Board has staged communications seminars for nutritionists each year to teach these knowledgeable professionals the skills that will enable them to do a better job of reaching a public that needs to know about nutrition.

The Potato Board’s Teachers Guide to weight control has been requested by about 25,000 home economics teachers who have used it to reach hundreds of thousands of students in a captivating and convincing way. This year a new Potato Board film “The Balancing Act” will become a part of that teaching program.

Altogether, 1/3 of our meals are eaten away from home, so the foodservice field is a vital one. It is made up of many segments — served by different magazines for which Botsford Ketchum prepares tailored stories, photos and recipes that suit each one’s specialized needs . The low calorie theme is stressed as much as possible . Knowing that thousands of people order “the diet plate” every day a plate with no potatoes , the Board researched the industry to find out what could be done. Out of this research came one of the most exciting promotions yet. The Slender Gourmet  For the Board , the agency went to the Marriott people and sold them on putting a diet plate with potatoes on Marriott menus. Concepts were developed. Recipes were developed. The agency checked nutrition values and calorie counts (only 450) — then produced beautiful table tents and menu clip ons to help make the program a success for Marriott. Other restaurant chains have now read of this success in the industry’s leading magazine — to learn how they can profit with potato diet plates.

All of us who are involved in the Potato Board programs continue to look for new ways to express the complicated facts of nutrition. Out of this search, has come an important new look that will be published in the spring of 1978, the Fat Counter Guide.

This is truly nutrition made simple. It has great consumer appeal, yet teaches some very important lessons that will enable dieters to make more intelligent food choices. The Guide will contain a new kind of calorie table that will help people see how many of their calories actually come from carbohydrate, how many from fat.

These are just a few examples of the ways we’ve found to make our potato nutrition message interesting, understandable, believable, meaningful, memorable, and even fun.

(I do not have them with me but if the Subcommittee will permit, I would like to submit sample materials from these projects.)

We have used promotional tools and techniques to deliver a message through almost all possible existing communications channels — a message that would change the way hundreds of thousands would think about food — and eat.

Lets look at the results.

They are given in more detail in an exhibit titled “Brief of Campaign Effectiveness” which I have submitted with the written statement.

Here’s where research checks on program effectiveness. When we compare the attitudes found in 1973 with those after the first two years of the campaign, we found the potato’s nutrition and calorie image greatly improved. 81% of those surveyed agreed that potatoes are nutritious compared with only 55% in 1973. At the beginning nearly a third interviewed thought that potatoes had too many calories but 2 years later that was down to 25% .

Consumers now accept potatoes as among the 3 most nutritious vegetables . Consumers now overwhelmingly view potatoes as the most nutritious of the starches — noodles, pasta, rice.

This highly visible campaign has cost much less than you’d think. Actually, the potato grower pays one cent per 100 pounds of potatoes into the program. And if he wants to get his money back, all he has to do is say so. Our budget for the entire promotion package has been from 1.2 to 1.5 million dollars per year.

So, it can be done!

We can teach nutrition facts.

Why aren’t these techniques being used to get other vital nutrition messages across to the public?

Let’s consider —

First, to produce tools like these takes highly experienced professionals.

It’s difficult to get down to these easy-to-understand basics. What you have seen in this program 18 some of the most sophisticated communications in America, and it’s done by a team that is subject to the rigorous discipline of business.

Economy of time. Economy of space. Economy of dollars. Economy of thought.

These restrictions make us hone down to essences that people can understand and act upon. The more restricted we are, the clearer we become. I don’t see this being done outside the commercial world. I think it’s a job we do better than any other sector because we are commercial.

But the communicators and promotion people can’t possibly do the job without the expertise of the health professional. We need the facts from him before we can translate and disseminate that information to the public.

There are still some nutrition professionals and some health professions that seem to think they’re the only ones who are competent to understand and handle this subject.

What about the public — the people who eat? Where do they fit into that kind of elite scheme?

Maybe you think that nutrition is only government’s business. I hope not. I think it’s the business of everyone especially those who have to do with food and with health.

For a topic that’s been as dull and unpopular as nutrition, it’s certainly being treated by many different groups as if it were their special and sole property,each of whom has wanted to fence it in as their own, with signs, “Keep out!”

The American public has been the loser.

We should have been working together long before now.

It’s not too late.

Programs must have input from all sectors and must reach out to all those who teach — formally in the classroom and those who teach in other places: editors and home economists, dietitians and copywriters, broadcasters and doctors , supermarket operators and public health nurses, to give just a few examples.

The more people, groups, profession, business, government, voluntary and consumer organizations involved — the better.

We need to put know-how and knowledge together. Public and business interests together. Together we have the ability to produce exciting, effective materials that will teach.

With this kind of partnership and cooperation we can “sell” nutrition and make it possible for Americans to make informed food choices by “improving the consumers’ access to information vital to the national health and well-being .”

Thank you.



Source: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing, Consumer Relations, and Nutrition of the Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, Washington DC) 1977, pp. 410-424.