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Nestle Stoops to New Low, Launches Barge to Peddle Junk Food on the Amazon River to Brazil's Poor

Has Big Food already run out of customers in cities and other locales that are more readily accessible by land?

Last month Nestlé announced that it, the world's largest food company, would soon start delivering its products to the far reaches of Brazil. But not in the usual way, through a distributor, which in turn delivers products for sale in actual stores. Rather, the plan is to sell to customers directly from its own ship. As the company explains, "The first Nestlé floating supermarket will set sail on the Brazilian Amazon to extend its reach to over 800,000 customers." The barge is dubbed Nestlé Até Você a Bordo -- or Nestlé Takes You Onboard.

Has Big Food already run out of customers in cities and other locales that are more readily accessible by land? And "supermarket" isn't really the right term, as such stores usually sell a variety of food, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Plus, even the processed foods sold by supermarkets are not all made by the same multinational conglomerate whose signature products include Raisinets and Sno-Caps.

So, what will the floating supermarket carry? Surely, necessary food items for these hard-to-reach residents, right? According to an article on "The vessel will carry 300 different goods including chocolate, yogurt, ice cream and juices." Yup, all the essentials. But wait, maybe Nestlé is taking care of the poor's nutrition needs after all: "The company often adds nutrients such as iron, zinc, iodine and vitamin A to address deficiencies among the poor," the article reports. How heartwarming.

So how can these poor Brazilians even afford to purchase processed foods when they are probably struggling as it is? No worries, Nestlé has that little problem all figured out too. As Bloomberg reports: "Nestlé sells 3,950 products in 'popularly positioned' formats designed for low-income consumers. Smaller packs allow poor consumers to afford branded goods like richer shoppers rather than turn to generic alternatives. The Swiss company has a team of 7,000 saleswomen who peddle packs of Nestlé goods door-to-door in Brazilian slums."

Translation: Because Nestlé knows that poor people cannot afford the same super-sized packages commonly sold in the West, the company sells starter products to get poor customers hooked on their brands. The threat of "generic alternatives" looms large because, god forbid, these people figure out that juice is just juice and brand really makes no difference. The strategy of hooking poor people on smaller, cheaper goods is commonplace but was pioneered by the tobacco industry, which still sells single cigarettes in developing world countries. (The practice is banned in most other nations.)

As I wrote about previously, with Western nations becoming more and more saturated while regulatory pressures mount in the U.S. to curb unsavory marketing practices, Big Food has no choice but to step up the sales pace in the developing world. As the Bloomberg article explains, "Nestlé had 2009 food and beverage sales growth in emerging markets of 8.5 percent, more than double the rate of its total business. The company has said it aims to boost the proportion of sales from developing countries to 45 percent in a decade from 35 percent now."

Just in case you missed that: Within 10 years, the world's largest food company will do almost half of its business in the developing world. That's astounding by any measure of any industry.

Plenty of food activists are expressing concerns over how the developing world is fast becoming the dumping ground for Big Food. Hank Herrara, food justice advocate in Oakland, Calif, notes a particular irony in how the rainforests of Brazil are being destroyed to make way for the manufacture of more and more highly processed foods, while native diets are getting shunted aside:

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