Posts tagged ‘diet’

Keep Slim and Trim with Domino: Sugar Advertising in the 1950s

Of course you know Domino sugar. It’s those little white packets next to the NutraSweet and Equal in the glass tray at the diner. The name “Domino” was coined in the early 190o’s, after the ancestor to the sugar packet: the sugar cube. The trademark name for an otherwise unremarkable commodity kept Domino, and its manufacturer, the American Sugar Refining Company, out at the head of the sugar pack through the 19th century. Today, the Domino Sugar  Corp. has no real rivals in the field of refined sugar, according to the experts at the International Directory of Company Histories (Domino history reproduced at FundingUniverse.com). No, the real competition to Domino Sugar is not sugar at all. Analysts warn: “the trend toward non-caloric artificial sweeteners has started to cut into the firm’s profits.”

I laughed when I read this. The sugar industry has been grappling with how to sell its product to “diet conscious consumers” for 60 years. And as I described in previous posts, the explosion of artificial sweeteners in the 1950s challenged the sugar producers and the candy industry alike. (See especially The Plague of Overweight and  1954 Fake Sugar Smack Down)

Back in the early 1900s, the American Sugar Refining Company dominated the American refined sugar market. It was the first to successfully apply a branding strategy to sugar: not just sugar but DOMINO sugar. Sugar demand and sugar consumption exploded in the 1920s and 1930s. After the painful (and, due to sugar shortages and rationing, much less sweet) war years (1942-1945), Domino was back in full force, feeding the nation’s demand for sugary sweets to the tune of something like $180 million in annual sales.

But their was a cloud on the sugar horizon. A big, fat cloud. After a decade of post-war binging, America was feeling the effects. “Overweight” was a national health crisis. Everyone was reducing. No fattening sugar!

What’s  a fattening sugar producer to do? Domino had one idea: prove that sugar isn’t fattening.

Life Magazine, 20 April 1953

Counting calories these days? You should know that generous amounts of Domino’s Granulated Sugar, used in your favorite foods and beverages, contain fewer calories than usual servings of many foods regularly included in reducing diets.

By 1955, this campaign had evolved from “sugar has fewer calories than you think” to “sugar is for reducing”. the message in this ad, a revision of the 1953 ad above, suggests that heaping three spoons of sugar into your coffee is a better strategy for weight loss than munching on an apple:

Life Magazine, 3 October 1955

And it wasn’t just apples that dieters might want to reconsider. From the same ad series

The final piece of this marketing campaign was this little cookbook for the “slim and trim”:

America Sugar promoted this booklet as

the safe, sure way to lose weight without losing pep or giving up sugar! … It’s Domino’s effort to put SUGAR–and sugar-containing foods and beverages–back in Reducing Diets…where they belong! (ad to the trade in Confectioners Journal, April 1955 p 9)

Domino Sugar is going through some changes today. Heard of the Domino Sugar Building on the Williamsburg waterfront? The American Sugar Refining Company built its first sugar refining plant here in my native Brooklyn,. It shut down in 2004 (and will likely be reborn as luxury condos, what else), but this is what it looked like in the late days:

And sugar? Domino is branching out in new directions. They have developed a perplexing array of products for food processing applications known as “non-sweet sugars”: such oxymorons are evidently useful in things like sports drinks which are sweet but not so sweet, and also in non-fat frostings, frozen desserts and salad dressings where the non-sweet sugar takes the place of some of the fat. The company has also teamed up with erstwhile enemy NutraSweet to develop and market…artificial sweeteners.

See my related posts on candy, calorie counting, sugar and artificial sweeteners:

September 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

1954 Fake Sugar Smack-Down

America’s love affair with artificial sweeteners started in the 1950s when cyclamate became widely available. Reports linking the sweet chemical to cancer in lab rats were decades away.  Artificial sweeteners promised the triumph of chemistry over the messy stuff of appetite and fatness.

This all put actual sugar in a tricky spot. The marketing of artificial sweeteners didn’t mince words: sugar is fattening, fake sugar is not. Real sugar needed to find an angle.

The sugar trade group, Sugar Information Inc., came up with an ingenious solution. They embraced the idea of reducing, but turned sugar’s calories from a deficit into an advantage in the battle against the bulge.

In a massive advertising campaign launched in early 1954, Sugar Inc. told this story: Why do people get fat? They eat too much. Why do they eat too much? They are hungry. Why are they hungry? Their blood sugar has dropped. How to ward off that hunger that leads to overeating? Have a little sugar.

The idea of blood sugar and appetite regulation was cutting edge nutritional science in 1954. When Sugar Inc. started running these ads, the idea of appetite regulation and the relation to blood sugar was quite new, while the menace of caloric excess was widely recognized.

These sugar ads which ran as a series through 1954 in national publications such as LIFE, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, and New Yorker evoked “research scientists at a leading university” to explain the idea that “if you are overweight, a moderate use of sugar in your diet may actually be more effective in helping you reduce than no-calorie artificial sweeteners.”

In a statement to retailers and manufacturers, Sugar Information Inc. called this advertising a “nutritional bombshell”: “a mighty effective answer to the confused calorie claims that seek to undermine confidence in quality foods and beverages that you have helped to build up over the years.”

Ta da: sugar is transformed from waistline menace to the ultimate diet aid. Who needed “diet candy” when candy was the perfect diet pill? As madame exclaims in this ad for Refined Syrups and Sugars, Inc., “What! Eat candy and reduce? — Yes, here’s why…”

See more of the ads in LIFE Magazine: 18 Jan 1954; 5 April 1954; 12 July 1954

August 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm 2 comments

1954: The Plague of Overweight and the Salvation of Reduced Calorie Foods (Except Candy)

In the early 1950s, Americans were gripped by a renewed fervor for reducing.

Life insurance studies had suggested that as many as 5 million Americans were obese, and another 20 million overweight. According to these measures, weight problems afflicted nearly 1 in 5 of the total population. Public health officials began sounding the alarm in 1952, and by 1954, even mainstream publications like LIFE Magazine had joined in promoting the new view on America’s waistline: ‘The most serious health problem in the U.S. today is obesity.”  Sound familiar?

Today scientists are looking to high fructose corn syrup, estrogen disruptors, carbohydrate overload, and metabolic disorders to understand why, despite half a century of diet and exercise, despite lo-cal and lo-fat and lo-carb and hi-fiber, Americans keep getting fatter. Overeating just doesn’t explain the whole problem.

But in the 1950s, the problem was firmly located in individual behavior. Fatness was explicitly associated with weakness, venality, sin. LIFE Magazine put it plainly:  “The uncompromising truth is that obesity is caused by gluttony.”  The solution? Eat less. Less food, to be sure. But in an age dominated by the precision of science, the real measure of “less” was not volume but calories.

The food industry was quick to respond to the new market for reduced-calorie foods. Saccharine had been available since the late 1800s, prescribed by doctors for diabetic use but occasionally “abused” by dieters. Saccharine was of limited appeal, as it had a bitter and unpleasant aftertaste and was not easily adapted to cooking and canning processes. But a new synthetic sweetener, cylcamate, became available in 1950 under the trade name Sucaryl. Where saccharine had primarily been sold over the counter in pharmacies, cyclamate was quickly adopted by food processors, especially canned food and beverages. Saccharine sweetened drinks had been around since the 1920s but were not widespread or popular. But between 1950 and 1954, artificially sweetened drinks exploded. Well known brands like Lo-Cal and No-Cal were selling millions of cases, and there were something like 150 brands of cyclamate and saccharine sodas and drinks on the market. And “diet” foods including canned fruits and vegetables, skim milk, and lo-cal desserts moved out of the fringes of specialty “health” stores and into the aisles of mainstream grocery markets.

The marketing of artificial sweeteners was agressive and played directly into America’s new obsession with calorie counting. The consumer campaign for Sucaryl used lines like: “You can save a lot of calories by sweetening with Sucaryl and you can’t taste the difference.” And: “If you are not counting calories, you don’t need this new, non-fattening sweetener. If you are, you do.”

In this ad you can see how “eat less” doesn’t mean eat less food. The low calorie dessert looks and (presumably) tastes the same as its full calorie counterpart. Sucaryl makes reducing seem almost magical: you can’t see or even notice what is different about the Sucaryl dessert. Just make the right choice of sweeteners, and your weight problem is solved.

Sucaryl proclaimed itself “the new non-fattening sweetener that tastes just like sugar.” Which is to say, sugar is the fattening sweetener. Who was going to want to eat what was fattening? By implication, everyone needed to be counting calories to stave off the dread overweight, and so everyone should be using Sucaryl.

It was a shot fired over the bow, make that the bowl, of sugar. And candy was directly in the line of fire.

Saccharine and cyclamate made sweetness distinct from fattening. So America could have its sweet sodas and pies and canned peaches. But nobody knew how to make candy out of saccharine or cyclamate. Candy sweetness was sugar sweetness. What was a candy lover to do? The line seemed clear: candy — sugar — fattening — gluttony — sin.

Next time: candy redemption.

“Those  Foods for Dieters,” Kiplingers Personal Finance, Jan 1954 p. 13-15. “The Plague of Overweight,” LIFE Magazine, 8 March 1954, p. 120-124. Sucaryl ad, LIFE Magazine 5 Dec. 1955 p. 110

August 11, 2010 at 11:58 am 2 comments

Daily Candy in Childhood Prevents Violence in Adulthood

A study published yesterday in U.S. News and World Report shows that the daily consumption of candy in childhood is strongly correlated with the failure to become a violent criminal as an adult.

British researchers followed 17,415 children born in a single week in 1970. 7338 reported eating candy on a daily basis in childhood. Of these, only 24 went on to become violent criminals. Candy eating appears to protect 99.7 percent of children from a future life of crime and misery.

Surprised? It’s no wonder. If you caught the story in the news, you probably heard the headline: “Daily Candy in Childhood Linked to Violence in Adulthood.”

The story reports that 35 of the 17,415 children followed in the study report becoming criminals by age 34, and that 69 percent of these, as opposed to 42 percent of the non-criminals, were daily candy eaters. Based on these numbers, the study author Simon Moore, a senior lecturer in the Violence and Society Research Group at Cardiff University, concludes: “There appears to be a link between childhood diet and adult violence.”

So what’s wrong with this picture?

The way the numbers are presented magnifies a tiny effect. Saying that 69 percent of the adult criminals were childhood candy eaters certainly catches our attention. But this is the same thing as saying that 99.7 percent of candy eaters did not become criminals. Thousands of children who ate candy every day and didn’t go on to lives of violence. If candy eating causes violence, we would expect a much more dramatic result.

Even the lead researcher rejects the link between diet and violence, at least from any nutritional point of view: “We think that it is more to do with the way that sweets are given to children rather than the sweets themselves,” Moore said. “Using sweets to quiet noisy children might just reinforce problems for later in life.” This is behavioral, not nutritional.

Kids with lollipops

Melinda Johnson, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, gives many other good reasons to be skeptical of the “candy causes violence” thesis:

  • Correlation is not causation. Two things might increase together, but both be caused by some other third thing.
  • Daily candy may be a sign of other lifestyle factors that could increase violent behavior. For example, children in violent homes might be more likely to consume candy as an “ease the pain” tool, but the violence itself is the relevant factor.
  • Daily candy might be a sign of poor nutrition overall. That is, it might not be the presence of candy, but the absence of nutritious foods, that leads to developmental or behavioral problems later in life.

So what is this all about? Why would someone even think to try to correlate candy and violence? The question is significant; when you go looking for something, you are much more likely to find it. And in the case of this study, what is effectively a non-finding is being broadcast as news.

Since the nineteenth century, candy has been blamed for a host of moral, social and health evils. Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, decried candy’s “demoralizing effect” and suggested candy eating would lead to sexual dissipation;  the Women’s Christian Temperance Union cautioned that candy eating in childhood was likely to lead to alcoholism in adulthood; progressive reformers at the turn of the century worried that uncontrolled candy eating would lead inexorably to stealing, gambling, and smoking.

Today’s headlines continue in this venerable tradition of candy-bashing. Candy is an easy target. We all “know” its bad, somehow, even if we can’t figure out exactly why.

There is something that adults don’t like about the spectacle of children eating candy. The latest headlines confirm deeply held suspicions that children’s tastes and pleasures are essentially corrupt. The claim that “candy causes violence” is just another (fallacious) reason to deprive children of a pleasure that, in moderation and with a dose of tooth-brushing and good food, is generally viewed by most scientific experts as being pretty harmless.

I say, give the kids their apples and their broccoli and their grilled chicken breasts, definitely. But give the kids their candy, too.

More: Susan at the National Confectioners Association official blog Candy Dish responds to the study with a reminder that how kids grow up is about parenting, not candy.

Image: Kids are for illustration purposes only. No actual kids were harmed in the posting of this blog.

October 3, 2009 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

A Complete, Well-Balanced Diet

Assortment of Vegetables, Spices, Grains, Nuts, Pasta and Fruit

In 1951, food engineering was in its infancy. Imagination was the only limit to what the chemists might achieve. And what could be better than a candy bar that offered all the nutrition and sustenance of a complete, well-balanced diet?

Monsanto Chemical Co. thought it was possible. After all, they had already worked on emergency subsistence bars for the Army which were rough derivations from chocolate candy bars. The food scientists were learning the secrets of concentrated proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. A Monsanto representative explained the principle:

It requires no great stretch of the imagination to foresee that with current knowledge already in hand … a tailor-made bar could be achieved which would sustain life for a long period of time with essential elements. A ’meat bar’ is already under investigation. Peanut bars, contributing a valuable source of protein, have already been in commerce for some time. … If properly qualified scientists, chemists, and food technologists directed their attention toward developing the kind of product necessary for human sustenance, I am quite confident that a tailor-made, approximately balanced candy bar can be achieved.

It’s probably a good thing that they decided to abandon this line of research. Imagine all those school kids opening their lunch boxes and pulling out “well-balanced candy bars.”

Wait, I err. In the twenty-first century, we can buy “well-balanced candy bars” at any grocery or drug store. They come in convenient and delicious flavors like chocolate almond and caramel crunch. Look for them under the wholesome sounding name of “meal replacement bar” or “protein bar.”

I do wonder what happened to the idea of “meat bars,” though.

Source: “Candy Bar to Equal Well Balanced Diet Seen in Near Future,” Candy Industry, 17 July 1951, p. 3

September 30, 2009 at 6:55 am 7 comments


Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

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