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Can a Candy Bar Save the World?

Posted Oct 05 2012 4:44pm

The last thing we need is more junk food.  But Americans have a love affair with junk food that will not soon be broken. Candy is a $30 billion industry, growing at $1 billion a year.

At Halloween alone about 10 million kids between the ages of 4 and 14 eat $2.3 billion worth of candy. The childhood obesity problem is getting worse, except in New York City where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has restricted access to junk food by banning items like metabolism-blocking trans-fats.

In just seven years, between 2000 and 2008, pre-diabetes and diabetes in teenagers has gone from 9 percent to 23 percent.  In the last 15 years, the percentage of new cases of type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult onset diabetes) in children went from 3 percent to almost 50 percent.  And when kids get type 2 diabetes, it is more aggressive, and less responsive to medical treatment.

Yet, processed food sales now top $3.2 trillion worldwide.  The food industry heavily markets the worst quality foods to children, a practice banned in most other civilized countries.

Almost all our processed and junk food is made by a handful of food giants.  The food industry is the second largest employer in the country, after the federal government, and makes up more than 10 percent of our gross domestic product.

A stream of junk food seems to be filling our stores in a flood too strong to change. Or is it?  The food industry will not go away, and it has no reason to change its ways while consumers, heavily marketed to and lacking real choices, continue to buy their products.

“Junk” – the ingredients in junk food that promote obesity and diabetes – is cheaper to use than real, whole food ingredients.  If we keep eating it, the food industry will keep supplying it.

But, if forced to, they could unjunk their junk food.  Mars recently said that it took them five years and hundreds of millions of dollars to simply reduce saturated fat in two of their products by 15 percent.  Five years and hundreds of millions of dollars to make two products slightly less junky?  Can this really be true?

Perhaps not.  A new company UnReal , just might be the help we need in demanding more of the food industry.  We are used to “healthier” versions of junk food, but we have to find them at specialty stores, like Whole Foods.

They cost more and, for the average person, taste different than our favorite junk foods, like candy. We generally don’t believe that healthier processed foods can be created with the same great taste and sold at the same price as our favorite junk.

But what if someone could create a new brand that beat the food industry at its own game – hitting the trifecta of the same good taste, better ingredients, and improved nutritional value (i.e., no junk, no chemicals, no artificial colors or flavors, no corn syrup or hydrogenated oils, no GMOs, lots less sugar, more protein and fiber, and responsibly sourced, real food ingredients), and have it available at the same places at the same low prices.  Can’t be done, right?

Well that’s exactly what a very small group of entrepreneurs have done.  Innovation most often does not come from within industry, but from a disrupter who changes the game for all.

UnReal may be that disruptive force.  It is a brand new kind of food company with a big idea. UnReal ‘s goal is not to get kids to eat more candy; it is to be a catalyst to get the big guys to change their practices and show that a few people, with a good idea can create what the food giants say is impossible, and beat them at their own game.

UnReal’s products replicate the top selling favorite candy – Snickers, Reese’s, Milky Way, M&M’s, and Peanut M&M’s. The idea came from a 13-year-old kid, Nicky Bronner, borne out of a fight with his parents over Halloween candy.

After a successful harvest, his parents threw out most of his mother lode.  Incensed, he tried to prove his parents wrong – that the candy was not so bad.  But a quick search on Google helped him learn the harmful effects of trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup and artificial dyes and chemicals on the human body and nervous system.

And so he asked the question – why can’t we make healthier candy – and it was answered with the creation of UnReal.

The start-up has garnered support from cultural icons including Matt Damon, Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen, John Legend, and even Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter.  Industry superstars have joined the start-up team. UnReal last week launched a video featuring support from these celebs for their mission.

This game changing candy is being launched in a true revolutionary spirit to disrupt the marketplace by going straight to the heart of the food giants, the checkout counter in 30,000 retail outlets where everyday people typically shop.

Major retailers, including CVS, grocery store chains, Staples, and soon, Target and 7-11, are giving  UnReal  candy prime space at their checkout counters. They are taking a chance on this idea that we can unjunk our food, and offering alternatives that hit all the buttons on taste, price, and real food ingredients.

The success of this revolutionary idea won’t be in getting kids to eat healthier candy, which is, after all, an oxymoron; it will be in getting kids to recognize the value of eating better foods – fresh whole real foods – more plant-based unprocessed, fresh fruits and vegetables.

But candy and treats and the $3.2 trillion food industry are not going away – this industry is only growing.  If consumers vote with their wallets and parents and kids pick the real food, the unjunked versions of their favorite treats, then they will force the food giants to change their game and innovate.

Some may say that kids will feel free to eat more, undoing the benefits of the better-for- you versions, but that is like saying someone will drive more miles if they switch from a Hummer to a Prius.   In fact they might eat less because it doesn’t have the slick combinations of chemicals and processed ingredients that make it addictive.

UnReal is not a company, but a catalyst that will show the world that junk food doesn’t need to have junk in it to taste great and if it can be done with candy, then it can be done with everything else.  What’s next from UnReal ?  Soda?  I hope so.

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below – but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD

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