Sugar is the new salt. Which was the new fat. Since the dawn of nutrition there has always been a demonised ingredient or cooking method. With Tesco delisting sugary kids’ drinks like Ribena, the spotlight is on brand owners to respond.
But targeting this or that ingredient isn’t the answer. Brands should instead focus on what makes them unique. In order to drive loyalty, consumers must be emotionally engaged and connect with brands at a level beyond the product alone.
When McCain chips came under scrutiny as part of the anti-fat, anti-processed campaign, it successfully changed consumers’ perceptions by altering its brand identity. Images of sunshine and rolling hills brought memories of happy family home dinners, and moved away from the frozen, fast food identity of the past. The resulting emotional response boosted sales.
Although some companies have reacted to the challenge to reduce sugar content by switching to alternatives such as sweeteners, this does not solve the issue. Like low-fat, these might also come under scrutiny for their health claims, potentially leading to a vicious cycle of recipe change. To ride the sugar storm, a strong brand idea captured in an identity that creates an emotional connection must be the long-term solution.
The danger of calling out formulation changes on packs within the fmcg sector in a ‘flash’ or traffic light, is that it forces the consumer to cognitively consider purchasing decisions at shelf. This adds more rational, literal messaging that does not change how consumers behave. It also adds more generic elements to a pack, making it less distinctive with less dedicated brand messaging. For brand loyalists, highlighting a recipe change could risk alienating lovers of the existing product range.
The most effective way to implement a pack or recipe change is to do so without communicating it to shoppers at point of sale. Rather than disrupting the shopping experience by engaging the rational part of the brain, this way consumers carry on behaving and shopping intuitively.
Nir Wegrzyn is CEO of BrandOpus