Advertising vs real life: Why the food we eat doesn’t look like food in the pictures

Ever notice that, for the most part, food never looks like it does in ads or on the packaging it comes in?

Gone to a get a cheeseburger on your lunch break only to open it up and have it appear as though someone stepped on it?

Whether it’s fast food or pre-packaged meals, the chow you buy rarely looks like how it’s advertised.

Turns out, hours and hours of work go into making food look picture-perfect.

Toronto-based food and drink photographer Sébastien Dubois-Didcock explained it takes several people and multiple hours to complete a single assignment.

“Ultimately, because food is so much more temperamental, we can’t spend that much time…at most two hours,” said Dubois-Didcock, who works with a food stylist and an assistant.

The photographer explained the product needs to stay fresh and often substitutions are made if a shoot begins to run too long.

“We can’t leave the food on set for too long. It does start to bleed or starts to fade,” Dubois-Didcock said. “We have to make sure that when we’re styling, we are placing the right ingredients at the right time and keep the ones that are more likely to fade or leak right at the end.”

So, what about shooting fast food and burgers?

“Those are the ‘hero shots’,” the photographer quipped. “They want to make sure [the burgers] are absolutely perfect, it’s the way they are built to extenuate every single element of the burger.

“In real life, fast food restaurants don’t have three hours to build a burger…the reality of it is our shoots do take a long time.”

McDonald’s Canada echoed Dubois-Didcock’s remarks.

In 2012, the fast food chain did a behind-the-scenes video of a burger shoot, explaining why burgers look different.

The photographer and stylist explained ingredients are moved to the front of the burger to “reveal the fact it comes with the pickles and the slivered onions.” Some melting of the cheese and colour tweaks are done as well.

Effect on consumers?

It’s no secret for many that food is never as pictured, so why do we still eat fast food and pre-packaged items?

“Impulse is the game of marketing,” Tony Chapman, consumer expert, explained in a phone interview. “We are conditioned to know that what is presented to us is highly stylized. Of course it isn’t reality.”

Chapman said often shoppers might spend only a few seconds scanning the shelves at a grocery store and companies need to win consumers through appetite appeal and how the product is described.

“What is a glass of milk doing on a bag of cookies when milk is not included? It’s there to make those cookies look more appealing for the consumer,” Chapman said.

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