Food for thought on nutrition strategy




Clemmie Corlett

Nutrition strategy remains a hot topic following publication of what many believe was a ‘watered down’ Childhood Obesity Plan a few months ago.

The Sugar Tax is a tangible risk for many brands. Lobby groups are sensing the need to increase pressure for progress. The media remains committed to revealing the reality of what we eat. Social media is alive with chatter on trends and fads.

Against this lively landscape, we hosted more than a dozen senior communicators from the food, drink and hospitality sectors at a breakfast roundtable last week to explore what should be shaping brand nutrition strategy.

The discussion kicked off with insights from three experts – Juliette Kellow (Nutritionist and dietician), Victoria MacDonald (Health and Social Care Correspondent at Channel 4) and Tim Rycroft (Director of Corporate Affairs at the Food and Drink Federation). The debate that followed highlighted some important factors to be considered within an effective nutrition strategy:

1. Get your house in order

Every brand needs to know how they measure up to their competitors. This is where media start looking for leaders or laggards to focus on in their reporting. Regular nutritional benchmarking should be a cornerstone of any strategy as it helps strengthen competitive positioning, identify priority areas for progress and spot emerging risks.

2. Honesty is the best policy

Product reformulations and reduction of portion sizes can generate bad blood between brands and consumers. Brands must be honest with consumers about what they’re doing to avoid a negative backlash. For example, consumers don’t like it when their favourite mountain-inspired chocolate bar changes shape with no warning and they’re given what is perceived to be a weak explanation.

3. Moving goal posts

Salt and sugar may be the focus at present, but with Public Health England set to introduce saturated fat targets for 2018, it won’t be long before the next nutrient comes under fire. Brands and retailers need to be prepared for the goal posts to continually shift.

4. Take a holistic approach

It’s no good taking salt out, but packing a whole heap of additives in as a replacement. Or taking fat out, but putting more sugar in. Every change that’s made for a single nutrient needs to see an overall improvement in nutrition or at least no change for the worse in another nutrient.

5. Not all sugar is bad

It’s often forgotten sugar plays an important role in our diets – it gives you energy and if you’re diabetic it can be life-saving. Sugar is naturally occurring in a range of foods, so making it clear therefore what sugar has been added will help consumers make better informed choices.

6. Balancing needs and outcomes

The Government must understand that changing dietary habits take a long time. Reformulation targets must be balanced with the need to produce products that maintain the taste and quality customers have come to expect. If you go too far, too fast, both consumers and brands lose out and that is not an effective policy outcome.

7. What are the trusted sources?

There‘s an issue with where consumers are getting their information from. There is no doubt consumers are increasingly aware of what’s healthy and what’s not. However, much of this information is coming from influencers who are not qualified food experts and is sometimes misleading.

8. Consumers are confused

One day it’s salt, the next sugar, then fat. This causes confusion for consumers who struggle to keep track of what they should or shouldn’t be eating. Brands must work with Public Health England to help educate consumers as to what constitutes a healthy balanced diet and stick to the same message.

9. Potential for nudging

Consumers hate being told what to do. Brands and retailers can’t be seen to be too preachy as they’ll lose customers and therefore lose the opportunity to be influential. There is still a lot of untapped potential in nudging consumers towards positive choices and changes, but the strategies of brands need to be carefully considered. That said, consumer relationships with brands are often stronger than authorities could ever hope to build, so they have a crucial role to play.

10. Take pride in progress

Brands and retailers should shout about their success and progress on nutrition, even if they still have work to do. Consumers typically hear more negative stories and are often not aware of the positive steps that brands have taken. Whilst the media will always look at negative and sensationalist angles, many also feel a moral obligation to report on success and what it could mean if others were to follow.

This event was one of a series we run for our clients and contacts to learn about communications best practice in the food and drink sector.

For more information on this event and others, please contact Ruth Barker (

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