You Can Take It With You: Marketing to Those on the Go

Faster food: The Milky Way 2 To Go candy bar is pre-cut for people with hectic lifestyles.
Faster food: The Milky Way 2 To Go candy bar is pre-cut for people with hectic lifestyles.
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

First there was Yoplait's Go-Gurt, which sort of made sense -- sometimes you want calcium but can't spare time for a sit-down nosh. Skippy's Squeeze Stix were weirder, but we understood it: Peanut butter in a tube is basically just the traveler's take on PB on a spoon.

But now portable food has come to this:

Mars candy corporation has introduced a Milky Way 2 To Go bar.

It's what used to be the regular king-size Milky Way, see, except that it's pre-broken in half so you can eat it on the go.

A brilliant solution, clearly, to that classic vending machine dilemma: "I would love to buy this Milky Way right now, but I am not sitting at a table and am entirely without knife and fork! If only someone would invent a candy bar that did not require such elaborate preparations for consumption!"

The bar is a cousin of the newish Go-Tarts, a slightly slimmer but otherwise identical version of the Pop-Tart, whose eating, as everyone knows, previously required a china plate.

"On the Go." It's a home run phrase for advertisers. Market research firm Datamonitor reports that the number of foods with "go" in the product name or labeling has more than tripled since 2001 -- from 134 to around 500. Convenience is big, time is limited, blah blah blah. But this latest trend, in which foods are cunningly sold as On the Go even if their Go-ness was never in doubt, underscores the bigness of the concept in today's society. Is the production and purchasing of these foods really about saving time, or does buying them fulfill a deeper need?

Where is "the Go" and why do we so desperately want to eat there?

The answer to that question is part of On the Go appeal, says Nancy Childs, a food marketing professor at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. We actually don't want to eat "there."

"We're not used to being tied to places anymore," Childs says. "It makes us uncomfortable." On the Go foods are like iPods, she says. It's no surprise that the spike in handheld meals has coincided with the rise of a whole bunch of other handhelds. Wireless food.

If people want the iPod, not the stereo, and the portable candy bar instead of the, uh, non-portable candy bar, then that's what they'll get.

Richard J. George is a colleague of Childs's and a consultant who helps corporations find ways to advertise their products' convenience. He offers each company one major tip: "Don't tell me how good your product is. Tell me how good I am."

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