Obesity Business Opportunities

Business (and innovation) opportunities are linked to demographic changes and data from which you can target a large or specific population to satisfy their needs.

In September 2010, the OECD revealed that Mexico was #1 in child obesity worldwide (and not too far in adulthood either), which grew concern in governmental health departments due to the future social and economical costs this might represent. Government did pull out a reform on controlling the food (specially junk food) sold to children in schools although the outcomes are yet to be seen. The regulation was a controversial measure since it arose the question "should government regulate market or is it just responsible of creating social awareness campaigns?". It was even more complex since it affected private interests, specially from large companies such as the soda and chips industries who find in schools a great captive market.

During a consulting sales project for a soda industry, I remember working with the brand "Chubby" a few years ago. "Chubby" is a small-amount soda from Puerto Rico with fun flavors TARGETED to kids, with neon colors and cute-round packaging. In those days I never stopped to think about health hazards with the product, I guess I thought since it comes in a small amount, it is best suited for kids, being consumed as an alternative for other larger sodas which are culturally consumed anyway. The truth is, now being aware of the obesity issue (diabetes and other sickness related), sodas in general (as they exist right now) should not be a drinking alternative for kids, at least not as frequently as they are or as an alternative to water for hydration needs. It is our responsibility to teach kids about it and for us to set the example in buying healthier products, and in that way to guide market as consumers. I do agree to regulate sales in a captive environment such as schools where there are no choice of going elsewhere and where kids have the purchase decision themseleves. What is also wrong is companies having marketing strategies targeted to kids when products could have health risks.

"Chubby" is honest, the logo is a morbidly obese character with a hip hop attitude and the brand name even refers to his obesity. Why then does it prevail? I do have to say kids love it, but parents (which are the ones buying it) also do, especially due to the nostalgia of their own childhood. Whose fault is it then? Marketing is not all. I would love working again with Chubby brand, this time in a challenge where the entire marketing and product is reconfigured for new health trends.

Regulations and new consumer demands (such as healthier food), open up opportunities for new product development, inside the organizations as well as for startups. For example a new Mexican company: International Healthy Snacks has gained popularity with their products such as Fit Bits being 100% natural snacks with 0 Fat. The company is shown as successful innovation case in Mexico. I applaud this initiatives.

What I do not applaud and even condemn is what the local company Laila's is doing. Continuing my "street reporter" phase as with the Mennonite post, I took some pictures that gave me the idea for this post. Can you tell what is wrong in the picture in the headline? Even with all the obesity related information and regulation controversies going on, this doughnut company PARKS their "ambulatory" selling carts outside schools everyday for an hour or two when kids finish their classes around lunch time. Sure you can regulate inside the school, but just a few meters in the street walk where the hungry kids gather after class? I think this is damn unethical, even cynical.

I guess it is also a "business opportunity" driven from the regulations and it is infact legal, but it consciously doesn't have society's best interest in mind and hurts a good governmental intention. Don't motivate these kind of practices and don't buy from them outside schools!

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