Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Marketing at its brightest – the low-fat version

If you ever wanted a single reminder of why, with all its faults, the BBC is still a national treasure, it might well be adverts.

Since, like most other people, I do actually view things on commercial channels, I end up seeing adverts. And while some adverts may be amusing and others merely tedious, some are downright annoying or even nauseating.

Take Flora Cuisine, a relatively new product from Unilever, which is apparently perfect for “frying, sautéing & making sauces”, as well as baking and roasting and probably just about anything else.

It has “45% less saturated fat than olive oil”, proclaims the producer in advertising materials.

Well wow. Perhaps if saturated fat was actually a problem, that might be worth noting. But it isn’t.

And olive is actively good for you (like other natural fats). And, of course, it's actually natural.

It’s equally no coincidence that, on it’s own bragging brand page about Flora Cuisine, the manufacturer includes nutritional data – but not the details of what actually goes into the product.

The most is says is that: “Flora Cuisine is a healthy cooking liquid that’s made from a blend of linseed, rapeseed and sunflower oils.”

But that’s not all it contains, is it, Unilever? Let’s look what else is in that curvaceous plastic bottle, courtesy of ocado.com.

Vegetable Oils (Sunflower Seed Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Linseed Oil), Water, Salt (0.9%), Emulsifiers (Soy Bean Lecithin, Polysorbate 60), Soy Protein, Stabilisers (Guar and Xanthan Gums), Colour (Beta-Carotene), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Citric Acid, Flavourings, Vitamins (A, D).”

Now, for the sake of being at least a little bit scrupulous in approach, let’s examine the ingredients in a bottle of olive oil.

“Olive oil.”

But,  claims Unilever of Flora Cuisine, “it really is the healthier approach to everyday cooking." Well, Unilever, some would disagree.

It’s at this point that I’m going to ask your forgiveness in advance. Because here is a link to an article from yesterday’s Daily Mail – but it is very much worth a read.

It quotes a doctor – Dr Aseem Malhotra, the lead cardiologist of the National Obesity Forum, no less – on the small matter of saturated fat and health, and artificial fat substitutes.

Most of what he’s saying has been acknowledged by some people for some time, but it’s good to finally see the message finally drifting through into more mainstream media.

People like Dr Aseem Malhotra, together with Dr John Briffa – and many others – would be among those disagreeing with Unilever’s health claims.

According to Dr Malhotra, “the whole saturated fat argument has been ridiculously overhyped.”

He quotes a 2010 review of studies, which “revealed no consistent evidence linking saturated fat and cardiovascular disease.”

Further, he told the Mail: “Really strong data is increasingly showing that the saturated fat from natural dairy products may even be beneficial in reducing heart attacks.”

And he continued: “Other research, by Dr Dariush Mozaffarian from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, found that people with higher levels of the trans-palmitoleic fatty acid (found mainly in dairy products) in their blood were about 60% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes over the next 20 years than those with the lowest levels.”

‘Dairy produce’, you say, doctor? Is that the ‘French Paradox’ we can see coming into view?

Because according to the great saturated fat con, the French should have the highest rates of heart disease in the world, because they’re the biggest consumers of dairy produce in the world and, in the south west of the country, they also produce (and consume) such glories as duck confit and foie gras, which are seriously high-fat foods.

But no, they’re not dying from heart disease more than people in the UK. In fact, the figures are lower.

Anyway, if you think that Flora Cuisine – its very name attempting to imbue it with some class – is bad, then let’s have a look at another of Unilever’s current portfolio; Stork Baking Liquid.

Now, I have grumped about the former since I first saw it advertised. I hadn’t seen the latter until the weekend. Never mind grumping about it, I wondered if I was going to vomit.

Let’s have a look at the ingredients here (again taken from ocado.com).

“Seed Oils (Sunflower Oil, Rapeseed Oil), Water, Salt (0.9%), Emulsifiers (Soya Bean Lecithin, Polysorbate 60), Soy Protein, Stabilisers (Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum), Colour (Beta-Carotene), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Citric Acid, Flavourings, Vitamins (A&D).”

So, did you spot it too?

The only difference between this product and the Flora Cuisine is in the type of oils used – seed oils as opposed to vegetable oils. Everything else is identical. Mind, the size of the bottle and even the shape of the bottles are too. So perhaps there’s little to be surprised about.

Not that the price is the same.

According to ocado.com, the Flora Cuisine is usually £1.98 for a 500ml bottle or 20p per 100ml. It’s currently on offer at 99p for a bottle.

That compares with £1.59 for a 500ml bottle of the Stork Baking Liquid (32p per 100ml).

So when not being sold under a special offer, the Flora Cuisine will be the more expensive of the two products – now why would that be?

Is that because it’s being marketed as a more 'sophisticated' product?

After all, the marketing is based on health, uses a word like ‘cuisine’ and, in making the claims about saturated fat the way that it does, links itself to olive oil and presumably is intended to appeal to those who would at least consider using olive oil.

Further, via the Flora brand website, we can see that “Michelin starred chef Jean Christophe Novelli has created some tasty recipes for you to try.”

Actually, when you click a link or two, it’s clear they’re not actually his creations, but simply ones that he’s picked that were sent in by members of the public and are now in a cookbook.

The marketing approach to the Stork Baking Liquid is different. On the Stork website, there’s a sense of the retro; much more of home baking – all of which ties in neatly with the current trend for at least claiming that ‘baking is back’, plus retro design.

But since we’re being very even-handed about this, let’s check the ingredients in the best possible fat for baking – butter.


Come on now: hands up who really wants to eat a cake that’s been baked using a liquid fat?

One simply finds oneself wondering whether, like that icon of artificial US fats, Crisco, these two also double as an effective lubricant for anal sex.


  1. I always thought 'Unilever' made washing powder???

    I am so niave

    1. ~ROFLMFAO~ Oh, Marie! Same here! But these vast companies have tentacles in all sorts of areas these days.

      I don't think you're "naive" at all – I think it's all part of the things that's going on. And to be honest, were it not that I look up these things, I wouldn't have known either. It's not obvious from the brand websites – not at all – but you have to look elsewhere.

      And that's part of the problem. In essence, we all have to become some sort of überconsumer, if you will, who checks these things out. But I'm little different from anyone else – were it not for this blog, I doubt I'd look these things up any more than anyone else would.