Fake Smells for Fake Foods…Yum!

In the “I-didn’t-think-it-could-get-much-worse” category,  Peter Harrop, Chairman of IDTechex, announced a new technology that will soon be hitting supermarket shelves:

Smell-emitting labels that will release tantalizing (engineered, not real) scents of food as shoppers walk by

His mother must be so proud!  After all, her son is about to unleash on unsuspecting consumers yet another way to manipulate them into more processed food, this time through their noses.  Of course, it isn’t the first time that artifical means have been used to build cravings and loyalty in consumers.  As Eric Schlosser wrote about in Fast Food Nation:

In 1990, amid a barrage of criticism over the amount of cholesterol in its fries, McDonald’s switched to pure vegetable oil. This presented the company with a challenge: how to make fries that subtly taste like beef without cooking them in beef tallow. A look at the ingredients in McDonald’s french fries suggests how the problem was solved. Toward the end of the list is a seemingly innocuous yet oddly mysterious phrase: “natural flavor.” That ingredient helps to explain not only why the fries taste so good but also why most fast food — indeed, most of the food Americans eat today — tastes the way it does.

People usually buy a food item the first time because of its packaging or appearance. Taste usually determines whether they buy it again. About 90 percent of the money that Americans now spend on food goes to buy processed food. The canning, freezing, and dehydrating techniques used in processing destroy most of food’s flavor — and so a vast industry has arisen in the United States to make processed food palatable. Without this flavor industry today’s fast food would not exist. The names of the leading American fast-food chains and their best-selling menu items have become embedded in our popular culture and famous worldwide. But few people can name the companies that manufacture fast food’s taste.

It looks like manufactured smells are about to do for highly processed, edible foodlike substances what “natural flavors” did for fast food.  Perhaps I should invent a smell neutralizer (or nose plugs) for anyone trying to eat better.

7 responses to “Fake Smells for Fake Foods…Yum!

  1. Do you subscribe to Meat & Poultry? If so, check this out. New fancy technology to turn meat trimmings into “whole muscle medallions” and “ground meat into burgers or nuggets”. Not sure what’s so different about the latter; not sure I want to know, actually.


  2. Wow. This is not good news for those of us who sneeze, cough and get headaches when passing through department stores or in elevators with hairspray and perfume-drenched women.

    Some activist needs to study the effect of these odor-producers on the ozone layer. Maybe we’ll get lucky and we can disallow them before they get too entrenched in the marketplace.

    • It is amazing how misguided people can be when given the power of technology. As for the odor-emitting variety, I was trying to image what it would be like to experience a typical aisle in a large supermarket. Basically, I don’t think it can work unless the redesign aisles. And for those that react to heavy concentrations of scents, I think you have a great opportunity to stand in “the way of progress”.

  3. OK, wow that sounds positively awful! Fresh, good food, yum. Fake food scent, and on labels, total yuck. Common sense would dictate that aromas of good food would be more desirable, pleasurable, stimulate taste. While artificial ones would bombard and spoil our noses for what good foods are in the store, competing for air space. Terrible idea. Bad enough these fake foods exist at all never mind being confronted with their awful smells outside the box. I give this idea 5 ‘yuckys’!

  4. Yuck. I hate going to half the market already because of how awful it smells (the soap isles in particular but the smell spreads) and this will just make it worse.

  5. Back during the internet boom, there was a company that was integrating fake smells with video games. The idea was you would be crossing a field of grass and you would smell … grass. Company name: iSmell. Successful – no. BTW did you know that Cinnabon employs this strategy in malls where it can not bake its buns?

  6. “Smell technology” has always felt like the redheaded stepchild of the tech boom to me. Sure, we CAN create all these interesting smells and force them up people’s noses. But why the hell WOULD we? Are people really clambering for it?

    For instance: remember this?

    No, I didn’t think so.


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