Low fat, low calorie, fat-free, fortified with Vitamin D, made with real fruit, gluten free, dairy free… we’ve seen it all on food packaging. But what do these claims actually mean?

I believe going forward, brands that are honest about where they really fit into a consumer’s overall healthy lifestyle (even if they are indulgences) are going to be the ones that ultimately win the long-lasting, trusting relationships.

Even though we know how much consumers value transparency, brands still try to sneak around it. It’s so prevalent, there’s even a term for it – Health Washing.  Health Washing is when companies position themselves as leaders in the movement for good health through advertising, but actually, promote products that may be contributing to our poor health. Why would a trusted brand do this?  Because it still works. According to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: when snack food carries a nutrient claim participants were less likely to look at the Nutrition facts label, more likely to perceive the product as healthy, and less likely to choose a healthier product.

Wendys, Dunkin Donuts, and Pillsbury all use the term Artisan, meant to evoke images of a skilled chef preparing small batches of a secret recipe.

“Multigrain” literally just means “contains more than one type of grain”- Pringles made with three different highly refined grains can call themselves multigrain. Really? Pringles.

Kraft Mac and Cheese and Doritos now have organic versions. It doesn’t mean that Dorito’s and Mac and Cheese are suddenly healthy. Brands are just giving people permission to feel less guilty.

And it goes on and on.

Some brands are even labeling what is not (and never was) in their food. For example, cholesterol is only found in animal-based products, so it should never show up in food like potato chips in the first place. But by putting “Cholesterol free” on packaging brands are clearly exploiting the consumer knowledge gap. As a life-long marketer, I understand putting “spin” on things to get connected to consumers, but do I really want an ongoing relationship with a brand that is constantly trying to pull one over on me? Isn’t it better to treat consumers like the informed, truly interested-in-their-own-health-people that they are?

A Watch-Out for brands. Consumers are on to you.

Consumers are increasingly looking for “complete and total transparency”, according to Mintel’s 2018 Global Food & Drink Trends report. They want brands to deliver honest information about where their food comes from, how it was grown and most importantly, how it can affect their overall health. In fact, 37% of consumers are willing to switch brands to get the truth.

In the Label Insight Food Revolution study, 94% of consumers surveyed say it’s important for brands and manufacturers to be transparent about what’s in their food and how its made. And while 76% agree it’s the brand or manufacturers responsibility to provide the complete information, the overwhelming majority 75% say they don’t trust the accuracy of food labels anyway.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association is a great example of an organization that appears to be trying to keep the truth from consumers. They lobby Congress against creating laws like mandatory labeling of added sugar and GMO’s.

But something good is happening. Over the last six months, eight of GMA’s largest members, Campbells, Unilever, Mars, Tysons Foods, Nestle, Deans Foods, Hershey’s and Cargill, dropped out of the industry group. These brave brands understand that consumers want to know about what is in their product, whether they are required to tell us by law or not.

If you want to create an authentic narrative that creates an honest, long-lasting relationship with your consumers, please reach out. I know I can help.

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