As more and more food brands become increasingly transparent about the sourcing and the nature of ingredients in their products, it becomes even more important that healthy food marketers take time to consider all of what they’re marketing if they wish to truly reach a wider—and more skeptical—audience than ever before.
What does this mean for the healthy food brands out there? Don’t assume your consumer will trust you because you tell them you’re providing so called “healthier” options. It seems that every brand under the sun is clearing its name of things like unnatural ingredients, GMOs, gluten, etc. And that’s great, because a healthier population is a happier population. But that’s not the point here. The point is that you take caution not to get what you ideally should be offering your consumer confused with what you’re actually offering. In short, walk the walk if you talk the talk.
An example: if you’re Panera, and you’ve recently vowed to remove a bunch of “harmful stuff” from your menu by 2016, you might want to be careful because critics are catching onto you. They’re calling you out for publicizing your menu cleanups for the wrong reason; namely that, as The Center for Science in the Public Interest Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson says, you’re “concerned more about public relations than public health.” And where’s the integrity in that? Healthy food marketers need to watch out.
Of course, there are people who just plain don’t care what’s in their food. But there are also people aware that the trend now among brands like Panera is to claim dominance as Health Food King and tout it about like an illegitimate badge of honor. So you may ask, how truly healthy is this food? Are all the things you’re promising to remove really that bad for me?
You might, say, as Jacobson does, that:
Panera should have made clear that these improvements won’t happen at the soda fountain. Presumably the high-fructose corn syrup or the poorly tested sweetener acesulfame potassium will remain in the Pepsi and Diet Pepsi it sells; the same goes for the Yellow 5, the calcium disodium EDTA, and the brominated vegetable oil in its Mountain Dew.
And, of course, if what you’re having at Panera is a 1,000-calorie Panini with a day’s worth of sodium, or a 460-calorie soda, food additives should be the least of your concern.
So the lesson is this: just because you say you’re cleaning up your act doesn’t really mean that your act will be cleaned up. Sure, transparency and flaunting tags like “non-GMO” and “no artificial ingredients” is great, but only if you’re applying it across the board. Until then, healthy food marketers, get ready for some backlash from consumers who are catching on to you—and they’re getting smarter all the time—because there absolutely will be.