Swine flu? I’ll have the oregano oil?

People will pay to protect themselves — or at least for the positive perception they are protecting themselves. Industry is all too happy to oblige with a variety of products of questionable value.

When faced with outbreaks of foodborne illness on fresh produce, sales of veggie washes go up. Salmonella in the kitchen? Bring on the antibacterial sanitizers. Now with swine flu dominating the headlines, twitterscape and Jon Stewart (see below) USA Today reports today that marketers are out in force — particularly on the Internet — with items ranging from 99-cent face masks to potions such as oregano oil that fetch $70 a bottle to third-party overnight shipments of Tamiflu for $135 per prescription.

Some major marketers are seeing an uptick in sales of items such as masks, latex gloves, anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. Consumer gurus aren’t surprised that so many treatments and protective devices related to swine flu — legitimate or not — are getting plenty of traction from retailers and marketers.

Jerald Jellison, a social psychologist said,

"When we’re faced with a potential threat, we tend to imagine the worst," says. That’s what marketers are capitalizing on. In a state of high need, with our rational powers diminished, we’ll take almost any action.”

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The sucess of perceived safety as seen in kosher foods

A recent survey by Mintel found that Americans choose to buy kosher foods because of perceptions of quality (62%), healthfulness (51%), and safety (34%) over religious reasons.

Similar trends have also been seen in the UK and Canada.

Krista Faron, a senior new product analyst at Mintel, was quoted by meatprocess.com as saying,

“Particularly in the recent past, Americans have been overwhelmed by food safety scares. People are very concerned and having some certification on the foods they buy can appease some of those fears.”

She also explained where many consumers find that comfort.

“The presence of the kosher mark itself suggests that there is [an inspection] process in place. It is all about consumer perception that there is some sort of formalized methodology…My sense is that consumers probably couldn’t tell us what kosher meant, but the kosher mark is reassuring,” she said.

While kosher processing meets certain religious standards, there is no scientific basis for the perception of heightened safety. Imagine, then, what the marketing of actual food safety measures within a company could do for business.

Since a Mintel report in December 2007, kosher has continued to be the number one individual claim for new American food products.

"Microbiologically safe" could blast it out of the water.