The Bean Scale

I’ve been reading Beans: A History by Ken Albala. Not really a book one would expect to gain marketing insights from, but, read on.

In times of great disparity between the haves and have-nots (most of history) – as soon as you had enough cash to trade your diet of beans for meat – you switched and didn’t look back. Until of course eating beans meant your were connecting with your roots.  

The biggest disparity appears to occur right at the line of ‘almost could’ vs. ‘barely can’ afford meat.  If you had just moved up a rung, then it seemed important not to be confused with the poor folks lower down the ladder according to Albala.  Become super rich and you could eat what you want – sometimes mixing inexpensive beans with expensive imported ingredients to show you connected…but no peasant ever served this!

Albala writes that the Romans were conscious of this difference in class.  Because they in many ways idealized a farmer’s connection to the land, powerful families took (or kept) names that in essence meant bean.  Fabio anybody. Fabius Maximus fought against Hannibal. Cicero was a member of the chickpea family.  Roman politicians wanting to connect to the ‘people’ obviously knew how important packaging was.

So beans, which provide more protein for the effort of gathering/growing than just about anything, have an image life cycle something like this:

Its what I can afford -> I can afford better -> Look how rustic I am

(I assume there is also probably an ‘I need fiber’ category but you get the idea)

This psychology is deeply engrained in our society, even today.  The retail chain from Walmart -> Target -> Penny’s -> Macy’s -> Saks is really the same thing.  

How does your product image fit into the bean scale? What impact does social mobility (up or down) have on consumers desire for your products?

(By the way, looking at history from the perspective of the bean is pretty interesting. Albala does a great job bringing a timeline together showing how beans were used, thought about and written about – And yes, even the greek philosophers were concerned about gas.)

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3 Responses to The Bean Scale

  1. Pingback: Will Your Customers Do Absolutely Anything To Consume Your Product? – Frog Blog

  2. Ken Albala says:

    WOW! What a delight to notice someone has found insights in my book I hadn’t even thought of! Marketing? Well, why not? You’re absolutely right it’s all in shifting perception of value, status, class. I guess it’s not just food that shifts, but anything you’re trying to sell.

    A true delight Fred. Thanks. Ken

    Ken Albala’s last blog post..Ant Elope

  3. @ Ken –

    I enjoyed your book immensely and I’m glad you enjoyed some of the inspiration I drew from it. Thanks for stopping by! Fred

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