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For Thought

Food for thought

With an increasing public awareness of personal health, food companies are feeling the strain of media scares and their connected consumers. In this illustrated essay we look at the challenging landscape and the opportunities for brands to engage with their audience for future success.

A big problem

Obesity is now officially considered an epidemic that threatens to kill more and more people every year.
Over the past decade this has been a rapidly growing condition in the UK, and today it stands that more people are overweight or obese than at a healthy weight. One look at our tempting but toxic food environment - with fast-food chains at every corner and easy access to cheap, processed and indulgent food - and its easy to see how we find ourselves in such a drastic situation. Though a level of responsibility must be placed with the the individual, food brands have the power and opportunity to influence positive and long term behavioral change.

Bitter sweet

Coined recently in the press as the new tobacco, sugar has been highlighted as the enemy.
And now that the enemy has been sighted, there has been increased exposure of its whereabouts, including a surprising number of savoury processed foods we often dont think twice about eating. A growing public concern, due to exposes in the media, is being further substantiated with new books and diets promoting the benefits of living sugar-free, inspiring many consumers to actively avoid sugar in search of a healthier lifestyle. The UK government is also responding by investing in research to establish the harmful effects of a high-sugar diet. With the help of specialist groups such as Action on Sugar, it seems likely that what were reading will not only become common public knowledge, but result in revised regulations demanding reduced sugar levels in all processed foods.

A time for change

Widespread research has shown a definite correlation between a diet high in processed foods and several diseases.
This public confirmation of how detrimental our eating habits are to our health has added weight to claims; particularly in a nation where the average person consumes processed foods regularly. It has also been confirmed rather unsurprisingly that processed foods are the enemy of long-term weight loss. Though losing weight is still a priority for some, recent trends suggest that people are becoming more concerned with long-term health and wellbeing, focussing on satiety rather than purely counting calories. Consumers are striving to make habitual changes that will stick and be easily integrated into individual lifestyles.

The raw-food revolution

For savvy nutrition enthusiasts, the raw-food movement will be no new thing.
In fact, many of us are already taking a more active role in the food chain and growing our own thanks to celebrity chef campaigns, and long-standing government initiatives such as 5-a-day, which have helped consumers understand the importance of daily fresh fruit and vegetables.But now, more than ever, were seeing raw snacks sold in nationwide cafs as healthy alternatives. Carrot sticks in McDonalds and kale crisps in Pret A Manger are proof of a changing consumer palette and a niche movement gone mainstream. Furthermore, smaller enterprises such as nkd are focussing their entire offering on the concept of raw goodness.

Digital explosion

When it comes to shopping, a linear customer journey no longer exists.

What used to be a progression through from awareness to purchase is now a complex world of feedback, research and multi-channel contact. Billions are sharing information online and via social media, meaning that people are not only a lot more aware of what is available but also becoming increasingly demanding of what they want, where it comes from and what it delivers; from the product source to the moment of consumption. New conversations are being shaped by a surge in personal, portable and digital technologies, which presents brands with an opportunity to extend the conversation beyond products and engage on a more emotive level.

The power of emerging markets

Consumers around the world are looking to engage with responsible brands.
And importantly, those who are most committed to purchasing more socially conscious products arenotliving in the U.S. or Europe. While only 35 and 32 percent of those in North America and Europe respectively will pay more for products showing a greater social responsibility, 55 percent of those in the Asia-Pacific region will, demonstrating a truly global awareness of the role food plays in shaping our planet. Its time for food brands to look to emerging markets - such as China, India, Indonesia and Brazil - for inspiration and valuable learnings on how to change for the better. Seeking opportunity through adversity, emerging markets can inspire brands to think and act with greater openness, passion and agility.




How brands can make a difference

So how can brands cut through and make a real difference in this increasingly challenging environment? It doesnt have to be about turning everything on its head, or reinventing the wheel; brands can play a more positive role through communication and education. But whats most important is that brands do actually respond and not simply hope that all this bad press will evaporate. They need to learn from the past, address present problems, and ensure that their consumers are reassured by how the brand is actively shaping a better future. Heres some food for thought:

Data visualisation

Visualising complex information can be a powerful way to tell an intuitive, insightful and engaging story.
Tapping into a growing consumer desire to track and quantify all aspects of lifestyle, visual communication can quickly detail product content and help suggest how to incorporate it into everyday life. By employing simple graphics and iconography, brands can help the consumer cut through a cluttered landscape, making it easier to navigate and feel more informed about the decisions they make.

Show your human side

Though it seems a contradiction, the easiest way to humanise your brand can be through digital channels.
The multitude of platforms available equips brands with direct lines of communication to their consumer, enabling storytelling, participation and personal dialogue. It is crucial to express the true personality of your brand in order to differentiate and begin more authentic conversations with consumers. Brands have always tried to communicate with people through whichever platforms have been available at the time, but now they have to prove that they are listening by responding to those willing to interact. Demonstrating your brands ability to not only listen, but respond to what is now direct consumer feedback will help build deeper trust and stronger relationships with your audience.


Rewarding experiences

Creating and curating rewarding experiences will further engage your consumer with your brand.
From developing rituals to surprising and delighting through new environments, all brands need to focus on delivering new experiences to build powerful emotional affinity. Food will always be a source of pleasure, so brands in this sector have the opportunity to be playful, without bowing out of the debate. Experiences form the basis of all kinds of human relationships, with other people and with the world around us. We believe its just the same for brands. Successful brands make lasting impressions on us as a result of continual, positive moments of interaction. These experiences influence satisfaction, build loyalty and create emotional attachment.


The experience of the brand is the brand.

The Brand Union We are a global brand agency with deep expertise in brand strategy, design, brand management and employee engagement. A network of 500 people in 23 locations around the world, serving every market. Founded in 1986, we are part of the WPP Group. Author Maria Trindade, Emily Nicholson, Lauren Murray Contact details Brand Union 11-33 St John Street London EC1M 4AA United Kingdom Social Media @thebrandunion