Food Industry & Politics

How Food Companies Create Addicts for Profit

There are two main ways a food company can increase profits each year.  Think about it.  You are selling food.  People can only eat so much.  How can you possibly continue to profit every single year once everyone has eaten as much of your product as possible?  As I said, there are two main ways to do this.

  1. You can rely on population growth.
  2. You can design foods that create food addiction and drive people to overeat.

When you look at the idea of relying on population growth to drive profits each year, the numbers don’t pan out.  It is estimated that population growth would only produce approximately 1.5% sales growth each year – and that 1.5% would have to be divided among the handful of companies controlling the food supply.  This is totally unacceptable on Wall Street.  It’s definitely not population growth that the food industry uses to create profits.  No, instead it’s the second way to increase profits that they depend on.  Driving people to eat more food than they should eat; and that’s exactly what 70% of Americans currently do.

Creating Food Addiction

Processed foods and beverages are everywhere.  They are the backbone of American food companies and our excessive consumption of processed foods and beverages is essential to their success.  These foods are designed to taste better than any real foods found in nature.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Much thought, money, and time is put into creating the perfect color, look, and texture of these foods along with their irresistible taste.  On top of that, relentless advertising campaigns are launched assuring we get hooked even before we are old enough to make logical decisions on our own.

Advertising targeting children is known to be so powerful that it has been outlawed in other countries.  In other countries where the economy doesn’t depend on selling processed foods, this type of advertising is considered manipulative and criminal.1  Here in the United States, advertising to children is a key strategy to ensure food companies create what they call “heavy users” of their products.2  These are the people who consume heavily sweetened beverages and foods of their choice in excess, regardless of the health consequences.  These are the people who inevitably become food addicts through no fault of their own.

Addictive Ingredients

It is well documented that the addictive value of processed foods comes from the calculated combinations of sugar, fat, and salt.  Sugar is by far the most addictive ingredient with salt following close behind.  The fat used in combination with the salt and sugar enhances texture and flavor at the same time.  This is why the food industry fought so hard to keep trans fat in our diet, which has since been banned by the FDA.  Trans fat adds an irresistible quality to many pastries, crackers, and artificial spreads.  Unfortunately, it also promotes heart disease as indicated by dozens of studies over many years, and it is an example of how powerless the FDA and government can be when it comes to what’s in our food.

Just how far do some companies go to create the perfect combination of these highly addictive ingredients?  Well, they spend millions conducting scientific research to learn how these ingredients affect our brain.  Then they recruit consumers (sometimes children) to participate in a taste test to see which precise combinations of salt, fat, and sugar most successfully hits our brain’s “bliss point.”2  The result is a product that will create what the food industry refers to as “heavy users.”

Like all addictions, not everyone has the same level of susceptibility to food addiction, but there are literally thousands of different processed foods being designed to get people hooked.  You don’t have to be hooked on all of them to become a heavy user and start over consuming several of these foods at the expense of your health.  In reality, while some people have more control over food than others, I would say nearly 100% of us are susceptible to food addiction to some extent.  Even the healthiest eater will find it hard to resist their favorite processed foods on occasion.

If you are overweight or obese and feel you’re a victim of food addiction the best thing to do is start removing these foods immediately from your diet.  Working with a qualified professional trained in functional nutrition can help make the transition to a whole foods diet easier than doing it on your own.  The bottom line is this.  If you continue to eat foods designed to specifically make you eat more than you should eat, you are going to eat more than you should eat.


    1. Story M, French S. Food Advertising and Marketing Directed at Children and Adolescents in the US. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.  2004; 1(1):  3-19.
    2. Moss M. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  New York, NY:  Random House; 2013.

Tagged , ,

About Laura Cadoret, MS

Helping people see the big picture in food industry and nutrition
View all posts by Laura Cadoret, MS →