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In a video against animal cruelty, a woman talks about the tricks food industry has been using for decades. One subject in particular intriges me.

In the 1950s there was a very important innovation in food, the instant mix cake. One of my personal favourites. When they were first brought out all you needed to do was to add a little bit of water, who's not going to love that? Well actually no one loved it, no one bought the bloody things. So they did a bit of research and what they found was that the main consumer, the target consumer, the housewife, felt that it was cheating. They didn't want to pass off such an easy thing as their own baking to their partners, their husbands, their families, whatever. So what did the producers have to do? They had to make it harder, so now you had to add water and an egg. And sales eggsploded!

(at 1:00 in the video)

Is there any evidence to support these claims?

  • Food industry made it harder to cook these instant cakes.
  • People were ashamed to trick their guests.
  • Once they made it harder to cook, sales exploded.
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    I've removed your "motivation" question and changed it to a factual one. It's impossible to factually disprove intent, and the question was implying that people were ashamed to trick their guests. Also, the question should be limited to the 50's because that's what the claim is about. – Sklivvz Jan 18 '15 at 13:41
  • Taking the egg out would do two things: 1) One less ingredient, so the cost of producing the mix goes down. 2) Probably makes the entire thing a dry-ingredient mix, meaning it's easier to package, and can be stored at lot longer safely. Plus, it may make it so that people allergic to eggs can eat it (with some other ingredient substituted instead). – Clockwork-Muse Jan 18 '15 at 13:47
  • @Clockwork-Muse: Well, I think even with an egg, it's still a dry composition (I guess the eggs were dehydrated). I'm also not sure the allergic consideration was high in the 50's (it's an intuition. I don't know anything about this). – Einenlum Jan 18 '15 at 13:55
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    @iamnotmaynard I copy-pasted the english subtitles of the video. She seems to say "eggsploded" to make a (bad) joke. – Einenlum Jan 18 '15 at 16:45
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Snopes investigated this claim and concluded it was False.

Although there's a grain of truth to this claim, the legend that sprouted from it is a different kind of fruit: a marketing innovation did revive flagging sales of cake mixes, but it wasn't the innovation most people think it was.

Snopes provides quotes to demonstrate:

  • the addition of dried eggs caused internal debate from the beginning. Requiring eggs wasn't an afterthought.

  • Cake sales were initially strong (from introduction to 1953), but growth slowed between 1956-1960.

  • Fresh eggs produce a superior product.

  • Different major companies used different strategies, without one dominating over the other.

  • The marketing solution to the analysis that suggested that cake making was considered cheating was not to remove dried egg, but to emphasize icing and decoration to customize the cake.

Snopes go on to claim, without references:

What ultimately ensured the long-term success of instant cake mixes was a declining exposure to the art of cooking. [...] As fewer and fewer home cooks learned to recognize the difference between from-scratch cakes and mix cakes, the longevity of the latter was assured.

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