“The golden path to health”: marketing Postum as a cure for coffee abuse in early twentieth-century Sweden

O'Hagan, Lauren Alex (2023). “The golden path to health”: marketing Postum as a cure for coffee abuse in early twentieth-century Sweden. Food, Culture and Society (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/15528014.2023.2191103

Abstract

Throughout the early twentieth century, the widespread growth of coffee drinking in Sweden led for calls by health reformers, doctors and scientists to implement measures to curtail what they deemed “coffee abuse”. Debates about the dangers of coffee took place in Swedish Parliament and trickled out into the popular press. It was not long before canny manufacturers saw an opportunity to capitalise upon this, introducing coffee substitutes onto the Swedish market. One of the most popular brands was the roasted wheat bran drink Postum. This article seeks to investigate the early marketing practices of Postum in Sweden and how the brand used advertisements to exploit the public’s growing fears around coffee and put itself forward as a viable substitute that was essential for good health. Using a dataset of 200 advertisements published in Svenska Dagbladet between 1926 and 1940, it demonstrates how Postum skewed scientific/medical knowledge on caffeine to their advantage, urging consumers to buy Postum to protect themselves against neurasthenia, insomnia and digestive disorders. In doing so, Postum went far beyond its role as a drink, instead tapping into discourses of wellbeing, morality and productivity, which remain a central part of food marketing today.

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