Five Products Facing Consumer Backlash
WalletPop asked experts for other products that consumers have fallen out of love with lately. Here are five they say are experiencing a backlash:
1. Bottled Water
The idea of bottling water has been around since the 1800s, for medicinal reasons. But the bottled water craze that hit in the 1990s was as much about prestige as health. Water coming from exotic places like Fiji and Évian-les-Bains hyped their better taste as well as their "cleaner," healthier origins as compared to local tap water.It was like capturing lightning in a bottle. In 2009, the U.S. bottled water market was a $14.4 billion industry, according to Beverage Digest.
The Backlash: Advocacy groups started making noise about the environmental cost of producing and transporting all those plastic bottles. Then there was the impact of abandoned plastic filling up landfills.
The industry was further hurt when the origins of brands like Aquafina, Dasani and Pure Life came to light –- companies like Nestle and Coca-Cola were buying good old municipal tap water to sell to consumers.
"A lot of tap water got a bad rap," Emily Wurth, director of water policy at Food & Water Watch, told WalletPop in a telephone interview. "Some of it was the result of marketing by bottled water. There is a movement to reclaim tap water. We have this infrastructure that we've invested in for generations now. I am hopeful that this trend will continue."
The Impact: Asking for tap water at restaurants has become quite fashionable. So has carrying a hard-plastic or metal container of tap water in your bag. That will come in handy as more and more towns are banning or phasing out the sale of bottled water. Cities like San Francisco and Miami had already banned government purchases of bottled water. In 2010, Concord, Mass., became the first town to ban the sale of all bottled water.
Still, as the economy recovers, so have sales of bottled water, John Sicher, editor-publisher of Beverage Digest, told WalletPop in a phone interview. In 2010, sales rose an estimated 8%, making it still an important factor in the U.S. beverage business.
2. Low-Fat Foods
The idea that Americans could tame their weight by eating low-fat foods took off in the 1980s. Within the decade, the food industry came out with a huge array of low-fat products to tempt our bellies. Who could forget I Can't Believe It's Not Butter ads with Fabio? Or Snackwell's guilt-free devil food cookies?
The Backlash: Consuming low-fat products did not stop the rise of obesity in America. In fact, studies found that consumers simply ate more in the mistaken belief that they were eating healthier. In actuality, they were replacing fat with carbohydrates and sugar.
"Nothing is wrong with low-fat products, but people need to keep in mind that low fat does not necessarily equal low calorie," Keri Gans, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, told WalletPop in an email interview. "A lot of times to replace the fat, sugar is added for more flavor. Serving sizes are key."
Studies also found that not all fats were created equal -– that some fats, like omega-3, were beneficial, even essential to our hearts and health.
The Impact: Low-fat products still abound but there hasn't been a run on SnackWell's treats in some time. In some cases, low fat is being paired with other labels like "low carbs" and "all natural" and "organic."
Conversely, supermarket shelves are also filled with products like Greek yogurts that proudly tout their full-fat status. Comfort foods like hamburgers, French fries and hot dogs have become firmly entrenched in many fine dining establishments.
To prevent tooth decay in children, fluoride was added to many municipal drinking water supplies by the 1960s. As a result, millions of dollars in dentist bills were saved, argued supporters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ranked water fluoridation as one of 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.
The Backlash: Fears of the chemical have persisted for as long as it has been in our water. Opponents feel that its risks far outweigh its benefits. Some studies have linked overexposure of the chemical to dental fluorosis (white spots and streaks, or brown-to-black stains) as well as skeletal fluorosis (a bone disease). Others fear it has an adverse affect on very young children and people suffering from renal disease.
"The safety of long-term fluoride ingestion has not been proven," Canada's leading fluoride authority, dentist Hardy Limeback, told Ruth Winter, author of A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives and A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. "The notion that systemic fluorides are needed in non-fluoridated areas is an outdated one that should be abandoned altogether."
The Impact: The U.S. government just revised its recommendation about fluoride in water after finding that too much of the chemical damaged children's teeth. With water one of many sources of fluoride these days, the Department of Health & Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency are now recommending that communities add the lowest level of fluoride to its waters -- 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter instead of .07 to 1.2 milligrams.
4. Plastic bags
For many consumers, the advent of the plastic shopping bag was a godsend. They were cheap, lightweight and sturdy. It's no surprise then that since the introduction of the plastic bags in the 1970s, Americans have used some 100 billion of them each year.
The Backlash: Concerns about the environmental impact of these bags has been steadily growing since the early 2000s. Not only were they filling landfills -- they took years and years to degrade. Then there's the issue of the amount of oil used to produce these inexpensive bags: an estimated 12 million barrels a year.
The Impact: More Americans are opting out by bringing their own bags when grocery shopping. Designers like Anya Hindmarch, who made the iconic "I Am Not a Plastic Bag" tote in 2007, helped make the transition fashionable. Now numerous businesses, including Target and Whole Foods, have come out with fashionable reusable bag designs.
To help even more consumers lose their hunger for plastic shopping bags, some cities and countries are adopting laws to make it harder to get them. Washington, D.C., residents must pay a 5-cent tax for every plastic bag received from a store. Last year, Italy became the first country to ban non-biodegradable plastic bags.
Americans have long had a fascination with cars. During the 1990s, that fascination was for big cars like SUVs. The Hummer, which mimicked the Army Humvee, became the ultimate status symbol.
The Backlash: Clocking in at about 13 miles per gallon, these gas guzzlers became more than guilty pleasures. Consumers became wary of the country's dependence on foreign oil and concerned about the environmental impact of oil extraction. The rising cost of oil and gasoline, and a deep worldwide recession in 2008, further drove Americans away.
The Impact: After two years of trying to sell off the brand, General Motors started winding down the Hummer in 2010 after yet another buyer walked away from a deal.
While the Hummer may end up in car museums, Americans' love of big cars endures. Total SUV sales grew by 23.5% from 2009, and SUV/crossover sales climbed 19.2% from 2009, according to Motorintelligence.com. Consumers are just buying more fuel-efficient models like the Honda CR-V and the Chevrolet Equinox.
Still others are turning toward hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Ford Fusion.
To see our previous list on products that went from backlash to blacklist, click here.