For decades, this nutrition scientist and marketing guru has inspired millions to change misperceptions
Nutrition scientist Tia Rains is dedicated to educating people about the food they eat. Her passion for nutrition developed as a competitive child swimmer. Rains knew that nutrition could optimize her performance and she wanted to understand how.
For two decades, Rains has spent most of his professional career mastering the art of nutrition communication. Holder of a doctorate in nutritional sciences, his specialty is to demystify the misperceptions of slandered foods.
Rains started at Kraft Foods, where she found her true calling at the crossroads of science and application. Then she led nutrition research at a contract research organization. From there, she moved to the Egg Nutrition Center where she successfully led an effort against the public libel of eggs.
His latest effort is a crusade to change perceptions of monosodium glutamate, better known as “MSG”. As Vice President of Customer Engagement and Strategic Development at Ajinomoto Health & Nutrition North America, Rains is a health and nutrition advocate within the food and nutrition industry. She focuses on translating the science of nutrition into applications to advance public health.
âFor me, the best part is deconstructing the root of the disinformation and then strategically defining a communication approach that resonates with the audience,â she says. âFacts alone are not enough to send a compelling message about food and nutrition. It is the âartâ in the âart and scienceâ of nutritional communication. “
According to Rains and his team, MSG is one of the most demonized ingredients in American history. To date, his efforts have helped over twelve million Americans become more positive about the ingredient.
As Rains explains, the first negative association with MSG came from a letter to the editor published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968. It detailed the anecdotal symptoms a writer experienced after eating at a restaurant. Chinese. He described generalized weakness, palpitations and numbness in his arms. He recognized that these symptoms could be due to a number of ingredients in the meal, including MSG.
As at that time in history, Asian foods were still somewhat new to American consumers. And MSG was often used in these foods. MSG became an easy target and stigma set in. It has been perpetuated for decades by âno MSGâ signs on menus, restaurant windows and product packaging.
âAs a society, I hope we can come to a place where we rely more on science than our personal feelings, or even fear,â says Rains. âEvery time I present facts and someone changes their perception, it reminds me of why I’m doing what I’m doing. ”
Jeryl Brunner: You and your team have contributed to the perception of the MSG. What is a compelling marketing campaign?
The rains of Tia: Perception change campaigns, like what we do for MSG, require a balance of logical and emotional communication. Logic gives people confidence in the message, while emotion empowers them to take ownership of the move to action and real change. In the case of the MSG, we are trying to reverse a terrible and long history of xenophobia and disinformation.
Brunner: So how did you apply that here?
Rains: As a scientist, I would like to think that people would be convinced by facts. But it turns out that the facts aren’t always enough. The facts need to be bundled into larger efforts that invite people to participate in the story to encourage change. For Ajinomoto, this has included compelling campaigns like when we successfully advocated for Merriam-Webster to redefine the problematic term ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ or to encourage people to support their local Asian restaurants during the pandemic at a time when this problematic. community was facing hateful rhetoric and acts of discrimination, fueled by an unfounded fear of Covid-19.
Brunner: When it comes to marketing, what are your most important skills?
Rains: As a scientist, I am an analytical thinker by training and I recognize the importance of research and data. I am able to make science accessible and understandable to the average consumer. But I also think critically about the variety of factors that inform a perception and then see how we can work with researchers and experts to examine why they persist. Credible data is important when creating successful marketing campaigns.
I also see the value of experiences and the impact they can have on someone’s perception. Using MSG as an example, it is essential that people taste and truly experience what MSG does to food. When someone experiences the tasty and delicious flavor they add to quinoa, roasted vegetables, and other dishes, you see the light bulb come on. They realize that they are experiencing pure umami.
Brunner: What would you like people to know about MSG?
Rains: Decades of research validate the safety of MSG. And public health organizations around the world are supporting its use in the food supply. MSG not only offers taste benefits, but can also promote the consumption of a healthy diet. As the purest form of umami, MSG improves the taste of many foods, and especially plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and alternative proteins. Additionally, MSG contains only a third of the amount of sodium as table salt and when used in place of a little salt, MSG can reduce sodium in a dish by up to 61. %.
Brunner: What did Ajinomoto do to tackle the stigma of MSGs and anti-Asian xenophobia?
Rains: As a global company, Ajinomoto is committed to setting the record straight, fighting xenophobia, and supporting the Asian American community that has been significantly affected recently by the pandemic.
Our most recent effort, the âKnow MSGâ campaign, aims to set the record straight on MSG by overturning the âNo MSGâ symbol that has perpetuated unfair perceptions of the ingredient for decades. As part of this effort, we have created our own âKnow the MSGâ symbol which is available for free use. We also partnered with Asian brand Omsom at our recent launch of a proud product from MSG which for the first time launches the âKnow MSGâ sticker on the product packaging.