Bruce Bradley is a FORMER Big Food Marketer. In his blog, he speaks out about the different deceptive food tactics that companies use to mislead consumers and shares how he has developed a healthier way of living and being. We had several different questions for Bruce about his thoughts behind the food industry and are so thrilled to be able to share them with you!
In your opinion, what is the most frustrating/misleading marketing tactic or deceptive label that you have seen (if you can select only one)?
It’s so hard to narrow ALL the misleading marketing tactics to the one, most offensive. So, I’m going to cheat a little and answer the question by focusing on a category versus a specific brand.
Without a doubt beverages are the biggest offender. The only truly “healthy” beverage we should drink is water yet we’re constantly bombarded with advertising and labeling that leanwashes all types of beverages. From sugary colas that promise “happiness” to energy drinks that “give you wings” and artificially sweetened diet drinks that promise weight control and sex appeal, the whole category is overflowing with misleading marketing messages for unhealthy, addictive drinks that should be a very occasional indulgence at best.
What initiated your departure from the Big Food Industry?
I had worked in the food industry for over 15 years. Although I was growing increasingly concerned with the industry I ultimately left for personal reasons—my father was very ill, and I wanted to be able to spend more time with him.
After leaving, however, I really had a chance to gain some distance from all the tricks food companies use to get people buying unhealthy junk food and beverages. It was during this time that I wrote my novel, FAT PROFIT$ , and this process helped me gain some more objectivity. Ultimately, after taking a step back, I came to the conclusion that your average person doesn’t stand a chance against all the tricks, big money, and government lobbying Big Food companies have at their disposal.
Were you at all concerned of “pulling the curtain on Big Food’s long track record of deception”?
Yes, of course I’ve been concerned. The food industry is very powerful, and it’s scary to take them on with my blog, media interviews, and various speaking engagements. That said I don’t think Big Food wants to harass me publicly. They have far too much to lose—bullies rarely win in the court of public opinion when the spotlight is on them.
I think what also works in my favor is that unlike some of Big Food’s critics, I don’t try to be inflammatory or exaggerate what’s going on. Instead I always try to be fair with my comments and take a very authentic approach. Heck, on occasion I’ve even defended certain industry practices.
Finally, my work in helping people learn more about what’s really in their food isn’t about ego or personal gain. And over the long haul I hope to be a well-respected opinion in the processed food debate. The bottom line is I truly want to make a difference and help people live healthier lives!
In your interview with Andy Bellatti from Small Bites, you state – “over the long-term, you always get what you pay for. Cheap food is very expensive once you add all of the costs – like the taxes you pay to subsidize Big Food companies, health consequences like obesity or diabetes, the devastating harm to our environment, and the inhumane treatment of animals raised within the industrialized food system” – This is an excellent point and powerful coming from a former employee of Big Food companies. Can you expand a little bit on how this/what aggravates you the most about all these factors with unhealthy, processed food items?
Well, I think what aggravates me the most is not only how harmful Big Food companies are to public health, our environment, and animals, but also the fact that they pretend the exact opposite is true. Rather than even acknowledge the slightest bit of responsibility, food companies have very successfully deflected criticism through public relations, misleading advertising campaigns, engaging unethical health professionals and organizations to morph public opinion, and lobbying for self-serving laws and regulations that only further obscure their profit-at-all-cost mentality.
Our capitalist economy works best when REAL, honest information flows freely. With accurate information consumers can make informed decisions. Right now the truth is hidden from consumers on so many fronts for both food and non-food items that it’s impossible for them to make better, informed choices.
When you were working for these big food companies and getting a behind the scene view to what was happening, were there times you felt guilty, hurt or lost?
There were certainly times when I was concerned. Most of my frustration, however, was directed at laws and regulations that didn’t protect consumers.
I think a lot of people within the food industry end up justified their actions by saying, “well, I’m not breaking the law, and my competitor is already getting away with this … so I have no option.” The problem with that thinking, however, is that Big Food and its powerful lobbyists have totally shaped the laws, regulations, and their enforcement to benefit their own interests. As a result, not breaking the law is a very low bar to measure one’s actions against.
Hopefully over time we can fight for stronger regulations that actually protect people and have some wins in court that make companies more fearful of misleading consumers.
Is there a recipe that is one of your favorites at the moment, something you could make every day of the week?
This time of year there’s not any one specific recipe. That said I love cooking greens of all different kinds. I purchase a summer share from a local farm, and I just can’t get enough of all the different types of greens I can eat and prepare for breakfast lunch, and dinner. So, it’s not unusual for me to be eating some spinach mixed in with eggs for breakfast, kale or arugula mixed in salads for lunch, and sautéed spinach or kale for dinner. Some may think I’m crazy, but I just say, “yum!”
A lot of comments on your blogs are based on the numbers on the nutritional panel instead of the quality and selection of ingredients. What is your opinion on this?
I think nutrition panels aren’t very intuitive. Food manufacturers have intentionally made them hard to understand and misleading. The exclusion of “added sugars” and the rounding down of trans fats to 0g are just two glaring examples.
Although lots of progress needs to be made on the nutrition panel, consumers still can glean a great deal of information from ingredients. While I’m not a huge fan of rules, eyeballing a label for simple ingredients, the total number of ingredients, and watching out for added sugars are a few easy tactics that can help you remove some of the most highly processed foods from your shopping cart.
Beyond those quick and easy tactics we also have to use some common sense. For example, many brands of chips can have a very simple, clean ingredient label, but that doesn’t mean chips are healthy!
Do you have any words on the artificial ingredients, sweeteners and colors that are found in the majority of breath freshening products?
Over the course of my career one of my many jobs in the food industry was running a popular candy brand and launching a new breath-freshening brand. That experience taught me that there’s a whole lot of junk in most breath freshening products and candies. I’m excited to see products like VerMints make their way onto store shelves and provide a better alternative to the more chemical-laden brands, and I hope that trend continues. Go VerMints!
Thank you, Bruce!
Check out Bruce Bradley's book, Fat Profit$, and get the inside scoop on what you're really eating!