Food and drink manufacturers must cooperate more to communicate scientific truths about food, says Ben Hickey

Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters claim to help people live healthier lives but when it comes to nutrition messages, the consumer is all too often left bewildered.

People are exposed to dozens of conflicting reports, so-called science and the latest food 'news' much of it contradictory, inflammatory and even plain wrong.

As a healthcare communications agency, we monitor the press and in a typical week the national papers can carry as many as 100 food, drink and nutrition 'stories'. Only recently one paper carried a story that warned that "a worrying number of adults are consuming the equivalent of 46 teaspoons of sugar a day" while on the same day it advised in another story "want to stay slim forever? Eat whatever you want except on Thursdays."

Such articles can do irreparable damage to brands and categories. Scare stories about fibre, sugar, salt and others have directly impacted certain parts of the food industry and have had an effect on long-term sales, reputation and loyalty.

The ongoing disconnect between what the national media 'write' versus what food manufacturers 'claim' and what the science community 'knows' will continue to dumbfound even the most savvy and knowledgeable person.

There is a real need for food and drink manufacturers to co-operate more to combat this bewilderment, generating clarity and thereby improve the overall reputation of the industry.

A matrix approach to communications is critical. Involving healthcare professionals, scientists, retailers, suppliers, farmers and consumers will become more important as the media and the public demand more from their food brands.

However, the national media need to do their part, too. They have an obligation to base their reporting on true science and universally agreed opinion. Food manufacturers and the media both serve the same master their shared customers.

They mess with consumers' heads at their peril and confusing or inaccurate information will simply make them do one thing: walk away.

Ben Hickey is a team leader at Allidura, Chandler Chicco Companies' consumer healthcare division.