Ultra-processed foods are having a moment under the microscope in discussions about diet quality and public health. It’s an important conversation, too, as UPFs have been associated with a host of health concerns, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. But aside from health, there are other lessons worth bearing in mind here for brands.
The rise of UPFs is not solely due to their convenience, but also their addictive nature. These foods are designed to be eaten quickly, often with high levels of salt and emulsifiers that make them extremely moreish. This addictive quality is one of the reasons why they are so prevalent, and why there are so challenging to compete against.
We found this out for ourselves at Dash when we launched in 2017. The reality was that people’s palates were not used to unsweetened drinks. It took a considerable amount of sampling and consumer education to convince people to switch from their overly sweetened beverage to a more refined product.
The effort was worth it: today we have a widespread, loyal customer base. Once people realised that the status quo of UPFs and super sugary drinks didn’t have to be their only choice, they were happy to broaden their horizons.
Brands like Lucky Saint, pioneers in non-alcoholic lager, and alternative milk producer Oatly, are shining examples of how positive transformation in the most ingrained of habits is possible. Their stories highlight how brands can effect change by sticking to simple principles of quality and taking an educative approach.
Yes, the absence of robust regulation around foods which are either ultra-processed or high in sugar and salt (especially as a new father!) is concerning. It certainly doesn’t feel right that a few brands are left to bear the burden of not just selling their products but also educating consumers about healthier choices. There needs to be a more equal playing field, led by a robust Defra. Backtracking on regulations for unhealthy foods during the pandemic has sent the wrong message to consumers.
But looking beyond the narrow view of UPFs, I’m determined to share a positive message with other brands. If you’re willing to uphold the values of what makes your brand and your product ‘you’, then you can win over your audience, and perhaps change not just their tastes but their point of view as well. We’re all capable of change, so keep the faith in what you’re creating. Build it and they will come.