Ad critique: Bagel Bites

October 2010, Working Mother magazine
The ad compares the ingredients used in the cheese of different two pizza products. The ad appeals to me because it feels more factual than other food advertising directed at parents and kids. I wouldn’t buy either of these products (see: dietary restrictions), but nice to see companies thinking about their ingredients. Thoughts?
Many school food products are processed and processing often adds fillers, dyes, and flavorings to foods. I still don’t understand how processing food and adding more ingredients can be cost-effective when you factor in cost of transportation and labor. Can anyone help me with this one?
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20 thoughts on “Ad critique: Bagel Bites

  1. I'm with you on the "I wouldn’t buy either" aisle. However, it's good that companies are advertising their ingredients as being wholesome and not a list of 30+ items! I've never been a fan of "my stuff is great, his stuff sucks and let me prove it to you" advertisement, though. If you want to advertise your product, teach people to recognize the differences themselves instead of pointing fingers at your competition. Who’s to say that these bagel bites won’t be higher in sodium, or have other preservatives to maintain the cheese fresh, etc etc?

    As for the making of products, it has a lot to do with your ability to make processes automatic, and requiring better quality/more expensive items to get the ‘real thing’ than to make a sub for it. That’s my take on it, anyway. Take juices, for example. Very few juices contain actual fruit, some contain 10% while others contain 0%! Yet which one is usually cheaper? It's not that they're making us pay for premium… it's that the fake stuff can be made an automatic process and be produced by the tons instead of yielding to the time and care required to deal with the 'real' thing.

  2. TJ is right. Economies of scale and production automation are big cost savers. What little labor does go into the production is probably minimum wage.

    Using grain and corn based fillers as a substitute for real meat or dairy products is clearly a great cost saver when done on a large scale.

    Incidentally, while I'm a die-hard processed food opponent, when I read about the Taco Bell lawsuit, I couldn't help thinking about the irony of the unexpected hidden benefit of oats rather than poor quality CAFO meat 😉

  3. It's brilliant marketing. Would you rather jump out of a plane without a parachute or climb a skyscraper without a harness? Well…uh…is there an option 3?? It may be more cost-effective b/c of the subsidies.

  4. I wish I understood the reason why processing is more cost effective too. Subsidies just don't explain it all.

    But I do have a theory. My hunch is that anything that increases shelf life means less liklihood that a product will turn and have to be thrown away. I work in wholesale sales, but I sell a product that doesn't go bad. On one hand if someone told me that 10% of my items would turn bad and be unsellable before they were sold, I would freak out. Because the cost of producing those turned bad items would come directly out of any profits I would have made. My items do "turn bad" when they go out of style… so yeah, if I could find a way to keep them in style longer they would have value for a longer period of time. I could sell them for full price year after year and there would be no risk. But just like a Fall 2010 woll sweater that you can't sell at full price in June of 2011, food can't live forever. And it's shelf life is way shorter than that sweater. At a certain point food cannot be sold AT ALL because it turns rancid. I believe that food processing and preservatives are around this short life cycle because a two week life for fresh food is in many cases not even long enough to get through bagging, trucking, grocery store distribution centers and shelving. By the time you buy something in the grocery store it could be way older than you realize. This is why I like to eat as much local food as I possibly can.

    Just a thought…

  5. Almost instinctively I googled to check the ingredients in these and while it looks like the mozzarella cheese is real, that's probably the only part of it. Still a TON more ingredients that what you'd get if you made this at home (how hard is it to put tomato/pizza sauce and cheese on a bagel and put it in the toaster oven?)

    It seems like a way to rationalize feeding your family processed food. Oh, well, the cheese is real, so that must be fine.

  6. I'm with you Mrs. Q, I wouldn't buy either. I just prefer to make my own pizza snacks. It's a great opportunity to get the kids involved and I get to choose quality ingredients. But for the consumer looking for looking for better made pre-packaged foods, this is helpful. Hopefully more companies will start to use "better" ingredients in their foods and market them as well.

  7. I wonder if anyone in these comments realizes, bagels are pre-packaged processed food too! If you took a pre-made bagel and put cheese and tomato sauce on it, you'd have the exact same thing, with the exact same fillers, preservatives, and sugar. Lots of HFCS in pre-made bread products! Being gluten free and having to make all my ingredients before I make a recipe really makes you realize this fact. But seeing a package of "whole grain bread" to most people makes them totally filter out the other crap that's in the bread.

  8. Main thing keeping processed food cheap is probably labor. There hardly is any – all done automatically by machines. Also the processing increases shelf life, thereby decreasing the risk the producer will have the product spoil. Lastly, I suspect the fillers/processed ingredients are cheaper than real ingredients (maybe subsidies, maybe just the product really is cheaper i.e. oats are cheaper than meat). Certainly organic ingredients are more expensive.

  9. I wonder if anyone in these comments realizes, bagels are pre-packaged processed food too!

    And making your own bagels is time-consuming and daunting. (They have to be boiled before baking!)

    However, depending on where you live, you may be able to get decent bagels from a real bakery. Why you'd waste those bagels on making pizza bites is unclear, but you can do it if you like.

  10. Cheap labor + government subsidies + economies of scale (easier with 'standardized' processed food rather than lumpy bumpy 'real' food) + longer shelf life for less spoilage = cheaper, all as pointed out above. Thanks for the article, though, sharing with my students currently researching the 'food industrial complex.'

  11. I think it's interesting that the add discusses the wholesomeness of the CHEESE, but none of the other ingredients… If they were just selling cheese, and there project was 100% cheese, I'd be down with it, but to me it's like selling a box of markers and saying "One of these markers is non-toxic and will work really well" without discussing the rest of the package…

  12. I agree with Keelie, its weird that they're just talking about cheese. whats in the bagel? the sauce? the pepperoni? Im sure they're just as bad. if this turns any mother towards Bagel Bites, they better do their research first. one good thing wont cover up a bunch of bad things. I still would never buy either of them. I cannot believe that I was eating these non stop with my friends not even a year ago!

  13. These products and the ads accompanying are aimed at people still in the dark about the dangers of processed foods. They are feel good ads. Once these items are routinely and nationally exposed as frankenfoods or frauds, and I see the day coming, then those big old automated factories will have to be retooled .. prices will go up too. We have too much cheaply made foods for sale. This could be one of many reasons there is an epidemic of obesity .. growing world wide with western food practices. High Fructose Corn Syrup is very addictive .. and it's in almost EVERY processed food product. Cheap sweetener .. made from GMO corn .. causing lots of health problems for kids and adults. We really need a food revolt in the USA.

  14. While many school districts are serving more scratch prepared foods in the cafeteria (see for examples), there are a number of barriers to scratch prep that make pre-prepared food items more cost-effective in some districts. In areas where wages are very high, the staff labor requirements for scratch prep can be cost prohibitive. Add to that the need for purchasing commercial grade kitchen equipment to facilitate preparation (everything from increasing refrigeration capacity to obtaining mixers, ranges, etc.). While some school districts have benefited from community or district initiatives to equip school nutrition programs with central cooking facilities, others that do not receive outside support struggle to secure the finances to cover these expensive purchases.

    Of course, a switch to scratch prep also requires significant employee training. These days, as more families rely on pre-prepared foods at home, many school nutrition employees come to the profession with little or no institutional cooking experience or formal training in food safety and sanitation. School districts cannot afford to shortchange training efforts either – every school nutrition program is required by law to meet strict food safety standards based on HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) principals, and bringing raw meat into the cafeteria significantly increases risk (and liability) for foodborne illness outbreaks.

    School Nutrition Association President Nancy Rice, M.Ed., RD, LD, SNS

  15. I've been taking a look at your blog for a few weeks now and am really enjoying it. Thanks for "making me think" about what I'm eating, I am generally pretty good at making sure to make healthy choices but a reminder doesn't hurt!

    My partner and I have recently moved out of the city to a farm and will be raising dairy sheep and making cheese. We are striving to produce more and more of our foods, along with eating less and less processed foods with ingredients we can't pronounce!


  16. Can you cover the "Real food" campaign Campbell's is doing? A friend brought us a can of their Potato Broccoli and Cheese soup, which has "real food" in HUGE letters across the top… As I turned it around to read the label, it said "Real food is food you can understand"- then went on to define ingredients such as maltodextrin and xantham gum!

    I guess it's another case of not reading the label… The same as these bagel bites?

  17. Actually Florence, not all "sciency" sounding words are completely bad. Maltodextrin is processed using starch derived from corn or wheat, while xanthan gum is made by fermenting sugar. Both are used as thickening agents because they're more shelf-stable than things we'd use at home (such as corn starch or flour). This makes sense because we at home don't have to keep our soup fresh for months on end.

    If we used scientific words for everything on a food label, sugar would be called glucose, salt would be sodium chloride, etc.

    It worries me when people freak out just because a word is "big." It's great to be aware of what you're eating. Everything you're eating. It took me 30 seconds to google "maltodextrin" and "Xanthan gum" just now. I suggest the rest of you do the same. Lean about what the ingredients actually are. Learn about why they're used. How they're made. MAKE EDUCATED DECISIONS FOR YOURSELF BASED ON YOUR OWN RESEARCH.

    Rant aside–I agree with everyone pointing out that this ad is stupid. 100% real cheese! Yay! 99.9% fake everything else… boo. The ad should come with an option C "none of the above" :p

  18. @Keelie Sheridan makes a great analogy. The ad focuses on one component of the product and conveniently ignores the rest of it.

    I am finding it disturbing (yet not at all surprising) that food marketers are latching on to "food revolution" buzz words and concepts. Have you seen the Dominos Pizza commercials that presents their ingredients as "farm fresh" and "locally grown"? Obviously, if I live in NJ, tomatoes from Cali don't qualify as local for me but that doesn't stop them from using that message on the east coast. They rely on the message just sinking into the consumer's brain without being thought about at all.

  19. Regarding how processed food can be cheaper than "real" food, here's my take. When you can stretch the more expensive "real" components further by adding cheaper "fake" components, then your per unit cost goes down.

    For example, and I'm making up the numbers here, let's say you can cut up a real chicken into 20 whole nuggets, so you get to sell 20 nuggets. But if you grind up the whole chicken and form them into patties, adding binders and extenders (which likely dilute the flavor)and flavorings (to boost flavor back up) which are cheaper than chicken, you can sell a lot more nuggets out of that one chicken. Sure, you're spending more on the ingredients (and the cost to transport them), but when you average the costs, I'm guessing you make more money by selling more product at a lower cost by going the processed route.

  20. I agree with TJ, "it's good that companies are advertising their ingredients"

    In regards to the manufacturing process…

    If companies sold us real food it would go bad. Plain and simple. They have to add preservatives to these "natural foods."

    Next, the additives. Nothing more than appeal. Out taste buds are so messed up that we, as a society, require more and more salt and sugar. Drink a soda and then eat a carrot. The carrot will probably taste bland. It is a mechanism we have built into us to look for sugar and salt. We prefer the foods that have the most because, back in the day when we were running around in leopard skins (like the Flinstones), we rarely encoutered these tastes. Our body would tell us, "YOU LIKE IT! KEEP LOOKING FOR THIS AND EATING IT". Colors… look at the colors and I can guarantee that they are used to mimic real food colors (Fruit Loops, for example, has the colors of a bowl of various fruits).

    While in college I worked at the chemistry lab of a local Jr. College. I had access to harsh chemicals and would help prepare the labs that chemistry students would use in their classes. There was a professor whow would literally walk into the chemical storage room and make "Tang". He would get SIGMA LABS-labeled bottle of ascorbic acid, glucose, etc. He would mix all ingredients in water and then add yellow food dye. NAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSTYYYYYYYYYYY, but very true.

    What's worse is that he had a class about cooking chemistry and yes… One of the labs he ran in that class was this one. UHM… Whatever happened to the first rule of chemistry: Never ingest anything from your lab!

    When did it become acceptable for companies to sell us their little science projects?

    Kevin :: Glycotrainer
    On Twitter: @glycotrainer
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