Last week, a number of cereal manufacturers came under fire for not being transparent about how sugary their products really are. The claims from Action on Sugar are a reminder of the responsibility brands have towards their consumers.
Action on Sugar’s naming and shaming of misleading manufacturers is uncomfortable for the sector, but fair. Many less healthy brands without clear nutritional information front of pack will no doubt now reconsider their labelling. The result will only be positive - shoppers will find it easier to make healthier choices - but for many consumers it will be too little, too late.
A kneejerk response isn’t good enough - brands should always have consumer interests at heart, regardless of other external pressures. Ensuring shoppers know exactly what they’re getting is fundamental. That’s why we introduced the Department of Health-endorsed traffic-light labelling to our cereal boxes over a year ago, even though few others in the market followed these guidelines at the time.
However, being honest about nutritional value is only the start. Brand responsibility should extend way beyond this. Trust is built on honesty and consistency: instead of shifting strategy in response to public outcry or legislation, accountability should be built into a firm’s DNA.
Take Innocent Drinks: synonymous with sustainability from the outset, showcasing its environmental record, and this policy forms a key part of its fundamental principles as a brand and business. When consumers buy a product like this that has genuinely positive intentions at its heart, they’re also buying into what it represents more broadly.
So how do you build a truly responsible brand? It starts with building an organisational culture where individuals and teams are accountable, and have the opportunity to make a real difference to the brands they work on. It also has to filter back through the supply chain. We source all our Weetabix wheat from farms within a 50-mile radius of our mills in Northamptonshire, through a select group of growers who farm in the most responsible way. It’s crucial to not only invest in quality, but also to build sustainability of supply.
We’ve had to build our reputation over many years by consistently making responsible choices. That’s why the traffic lights on Weetabix Original, Weetabix Protein and Ready Brek are all green.
We’re not the only brand continually working to make our products even better. All responsible companies should evolve to meet ever-changing consumer demands, such as increased fibre or lower sugar. This is the way to drive growth not just for a business, but the entire category.
Some brands will always be better than others at showcasing the positive work they do, and brazen tactics do sometimes pay off. You can show off as much as you like, or tweak your brand in response to each fresh scandal, but your true brand reputation will always shine through.
If you want to build real brand trust, you need to do the responsible thing, even when nobody’s looking.
Sally Abbott is MD, Weetabix Food Company