Opinion

Marketing, cancer-prevention and great food

27 September 2016

Briony Dunmore
Briony Dunmore

Marking the new season of British shallots, scientist and chef Toral Shah of The Urban Kitchen cooked up a shallot storm for guests at a promotional supper event in her London home. Briony Dunmore, Produce Business UK business development manager, was there

Whilst dining on freshly prepared canapés, salad platters and a cheese tower (complete with pear and shallot chutney), I learned something at the UK Shallots supper club about this exciting product that I wasn’t expecting – it has excellent anti-cancer benefits. In fact, according to a study by Cornell University food scientists, shallots are higher in anti-cancer chemicals than any other member of the onion family.

A shallot a day… 

To get a little bit scientific, the phenolics and flavonoids in a humble shallot are the types of phytochemicals (or antioxidant chemicals) that protect them against any harmful bacteria. These antioxidant chemicals can help prevent cancer by mopping up cell-damaging free radicals in the human body and inhibiting the production of reactive substances that could damage normal cells. 

Got it? Good. Then you know like I do why it might be beneficial for you and others to eat more shallots.

Whilst there are many increasing factors that we can’t control affecting our cancer risk, such as genetics and our environment, we all have the power to change our diet. Dr Walter Willett of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health believes that to reduce risk of cancer through diet, it is important to focus on a ‘rainbow of produce’, such as dark greens and browns, orange, purple and red fruits and vegetables. But do consumers need food additives, fruit flavourings and an advertising campaign that costs more than a two-bedroom flat to want to encourage them to ‘taste the rainbow’ of produce? 

Alternative prescription

Unlike marketing high-sugar energy drinks or fatty convenience foods, fresh produce marketeers can and should feel pretty good about encouraging consumers to learn about fruit and veg by promising realistic nutritional benefits. In fact, with cancer cases increasing by 2.1% a year, and afflicting a third of women and half of men, eating more fresh produce may not drastically change the enjoyment of your life, but it could drastically improve your health. Although European laws may restrict produce companies from making specific claims relating to health, marketing campaigns may reference research by a university or ambassador that has been published within a public domain – cue the Urban Kitchen and promotional body UK Shallots…

At a time when the Rio Olympics and Paralympics are still buzzing around our heads and we’re all wondering what exactly Usain Bolt has for breakfast before he poses for a selfie mid-100m sprint for gold, it was life-affirming to listen to Shah. She spoke about how, after being diagnosed with breast cancer at 29, she started the Urban Kitchen, linking her passion for cooking with her nutritional knowledge of cancer-preventing foods.

UK Shallots is doing something great by communicating a healthy diet and disease prevention by sharing delicious, easy recipes incorporating their British shallots. Educating the consumer into making better shopping choices should be at the heart of every produce marketing campaign. In a world where there are increasing varieties of produce available on our supermarket shelves and social media is dominated by health and wellness bloggers worshipping the avocado – are our consumers overwhelmed by choice and information? Could access to the internet and greater knowledge of traceability and health benefits have had a negative impact on our consumer? After all, accessors of this information are from a culture of obesity and an enforced sugar-levy.

Maybe we should stop trying to make produce cool. I question the usefulness in produce companies sponsoring great sporting events alongside trendy energy drinks and spending enormous budgets on attractive packaging. After all, partnered with a well-balanced diet, fresh produce actually does make consumers healthier, faster and better-looking and for our hipster friends, it even comes in its own self-generated, 100% natural, 100% vegan, 100% recyclable biodegradable packaging.

Educating consumers into what’s good for them by incorporating seasonal produce into simple recipes could be one complex marketing step back for produce companies, that equals two steps forward in getting through to consumers. 

The UK Shallot Supper Club was a welcome evening of basic educational marketing: seasonal produce, easy-to-follow recipes, great face-to-face conversation and some nutritional learning. I’d never before considered that shallots could support me in preventing disease, but thanks to a little old-school direct marketing, they’ve quickly become a supermarket staple (along with some other members of the produce rainbow).

Don’t miss Dr Joost van der Slip at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference where he will give his views on the potential role of nutrition and fresh produce in optimising the treatment value of the time patients spend in hospital. Register here.

Produce Business UK welcomes letters to the editor and other input from the industry. If you wish to respond to an article on Produce Business UK or join the conversation on any industry issue, please send your thoughts to [email protected]

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