By David Sirota
Posted on Jun 17, 2012
Major food corporations face a quandary. They are under Wall Street’s constant profit-growth pressure, but they can’t substantially raise product prices because the food market is so cost sensitive. Therefore, to entice us to spend even more on eating, Big Food has lately been trying to extend the biological limits of consumption by challenging one of the most basic structures of American culture: the traditional meal schedule.
For the last few decades, food companies had aimed their marketing at single meals, pushing to inflate portion sizes. That initiative was wildly successful. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, the average restaurant meal in the United States is now an unfathomable four times larger than it was in 1950. That has translated into “Americans now consum(ing) 2,700 calories a day, about 500 calories more than 40 years ago,” according to the Atlantic Monthly.
One predictable result of this trend is an obesity rate that’s poised to top 40 percent and that already costs the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in additional health care expenditures. The other result is that the super-size campaign has become a victim of its own success. Indeed, food companies are coming to realize that, in terms of per-meal product sales, they are quickly approaching the point where the human body simply cannot—or will not—accommodate any more calories in a single sitting. That has left Big Food fretting about a profit-making path forward—and that’s where the innovators at Yum! Brands come in.
Known for ignoring public health concerns and pioneering weapons-grade junk food, this conglomerate’s subsidiaries have most recently given us the cheeseburger-stuffed pizza (Pizza Hut), the Dorito-shelled taco (Taco Bell), and the “Double Down” (KFC)—a bacon and cheese sandwich that replaces bread with slabs of deep-fried chicken. So it should come as no surprise that with the three meals hitting their caloric max-out point, Yum! Brands has been leading the effort to add a whole new gorging session to America’s daily schedule.
The campaign is called “fourth meal” and was originally launched in a series of Taco Bell spots telling kids that “everyone is a fourth mealer—some just don’t know it yet.” Now, new “fourth meal” ads are once again popping up all over television, insisting that “sometimes the best dinner is after dinner.” The ads are backed by an eponymous website and a “cravinator” smartphone app that helps binge-eaters select their junk food of choice.