The national conversation about food is increasingly framed by what it is not. Not genetically modified, no sugar added, no high-fructose corn syrup, no hormones, no gluten and no artificial preservatives or colors. These so-called absence claims put food makers on the defensive. Having to defend their choice of ingredients leaves marketers little time to talk about what’s right with their foods and beverages. More importantly, they lose control of the message they want to send about their products.
It’s not as if shoppers don’t know what is in the can or box they pick off a grocer’s shelf. For the most part, food-labeling laws give consumers the information they need to decide whether the food meets their dietary needs or fits their social worldview. Nutritional labels can steer shoppers away from fatty, salty or sugary foods. Ingredient statements warn consumers of allergens or additives they might want to avoid (like HFCS). Meanwhile, certifications convey a status like organic, fair trade, kosher or halal. A recycling logo on the package connotes eco-stewardship.