The Sad, Quiet Death of Campbell's Low-Sodium Soup

Readers, once again, thanks for indulging me as I take a break from writing to work on other projects.

A while back, Campbell's gave up and killed off their line of lower-salt soups.

Why? Because consumers hated them.

Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few food bloggers and public health pundits who are spinning this into yet another tale of corporate greed. Hey, Campbell's--just like every other food company--will do anything to increase their profits. Including killing off their own customers by adding salt back to their soup.

Maybe it's just me, but isn't it at least somewhat understandable that a food company would stop selling food their customers clearly don't want to buy?

Here's the problem: when you use a paranoid lens like "they'd do anything to increase their profits, including killing off their own customers" to consider a situation like this, you also adopt a fundamentally disempowering view that corporations are too powerful for us. You adopt a view that these companies, with their enormous advertising and marketing budgets, can tell us what to buy. And it presumes, condescendingly, we consumers are powerless to resist all those billions of dollars in ads.

Of course there's a hilariously huge hole in the logic of that lens. If Campbell's (or any other food company's) marketing was really that powerful, they could easily convince us to buy low-sodium soup. And they could make us like it too! With so much power, corporations could effortlessly persuade all those mindless lumpenproletariat zombies that their low-salt soups were delicious. Right?

Hmmm. But yet they couldn't. People still hated them--and didn't buy 'em.

Which proves an inconvenient truth: that we consumers actually decided that these soups would be unsuccessful--by not purchasing them. As with every other decision about what corporations sell us, we choose everything on our store shelves by making the final decision: to buy or not buy.

There's one more appalling logic error that comes flying out of the mouths of public health pundits whenever a major food company makes a seemingly anti-consumer decision like this. The flawed logic goes something like this: Yes, our culture has an obesity problem, a hypertension problem, and we are getting fatter and fatter as a nation as we effectively eat ourselves to death. And every public health pundit has an obligation to at least appear to care about these important and serious problems.

Well, there's no better way to appear to care about these issues than to virtue-signal in the media, pointing out new examples of food companies greedily putting profits before the health of their customers. In other words, a pundit can easily say "Campbell's should sell soup with less salt, but they won't, because they only care about making money." Somehow, this message seems vaguely logical, and it gives the pundit's audience a tasty and easy-to-swallow message that goes down very easily.

Except that any company that insists on selling things its customers don't want to buy will flop faster than Lehman Brothers. The bottom line, however, is that this anti-corporate, easy-to-swallow message is so easy to articulate, and it resonates so well with the average consumer, who wouldn't say it? Especially if doing so will burnish your reputation as the next Eliot Spitzer of food.

Uh, whoops. Wait. That was a really bad error. I meant the next Eliot Ness of food.

But here's the problem: despite the highly visible virtue-signalling and tsk-tsking about corporate greed, what that public health pundit is actually saying "Campbell's: stop selling foods that people like, and start selling what I think people should like. After all, I'm a food expert."

If this seems vaguely arrogant and condescending to you, good. Because it is.

To me, selling a hyperpalatable message like this--a message that encourages consumers to give away their power, and a message that appeals to consumers' emotions at the expense of their intelligence--is way more greedy and unethical than selling a can of salty soup.

Okay. There's another, better, solution--and CK readers already know it.

Let's face it, it's just as easy and far cheaper to make your own soup at home. Sure, with Campbell's you can easily get 1-2 servings of soup on the table in just 10-12 minutes. But take a look at any of the amazing soups available here at CK's recipe index. With a few incremental minutes of work, you can get three, four or even five times as many servings of a delicious, healthy, homemade soup or stew on your table, and enjoy leftovers for days afterward. You'll have healthier, better tasting food on the table for a fraction of the cost and time commitment.

And then you can control the sodium level in your food yourself, rather than letting some company control it for you.

Campbell Adds Salt To Spur Soup Sales.
Campbell Soup Fights the Salt Wars.
Food Politics
There are no good studies linking salt to hypertension.
Scientific American
But wait! There's NO DOUBT about the dangers of salt.

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