Influencing consumer habits: the opportunity for responsible marketing in the food industry – part 2

With almost two-thirds of adults in England either overweight or living with obesity, it raises the question whether marketing professionals have a responsibility to promote healthier lifestyle choices to consumers. This was the hot topic covered in S2 E6 of the Agri Food Comms-Cast that raised many questions around the role food producers have in actively marketing healthier food choices.

There’s nothing processed or artificial about the meat, dairy, veg and fruit that are produced to some of the highest standards in the world by our British farmers. However, conveying the ‘better for you’ message more widely is often problematic, especially when competing against FMCG brands with vast budgets to promote their highly processed, nutritionally bereft, industrially manufactured products.

It’s a pressing issue that really needs to be addressed. An Independent Report conducted in 2019 by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, found that there had been a 19% increase in overweight children aged between 10-11 years in 2017/18 when compared with the same data in the early 90s*. That’s clearly a worrying trend, that threatens not only the health of our children but also places unnecessary pressures on an already stretched NHS. But should the onus to promote healthy lifestyle choices lie with marketing professionals?

As covered in a previous podcast (In conversation with Veg Power – Pinstone) the ‘Veg Power’ campaign returned to our televisions in a bid to promote healthier eating amongst primary school children. This month’s podcast guest, food campaigner and crossbench member of the House of Lords, Baroness Rosie Boycott, also Chairs the Board of the Veg Power initiative. She explained the significance behind the ‘Eat Them to Defeat Them’ campaign and how taking an innovative, child-friendly approach towards marketing vegetables helped significantly increase the consumption of vegetables in households and schools.

Changing attitudes also needs to come from the top down, so the UK government announcement of an obesity strategy is a positive step. This directive aims to halve the number of children living with obesity by 2030. Through implementing strategic marketing measures, such as restricting the scheduling of adverts promoting products which are high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) before 9pm and limiting the promotion of unhealthy products in retailer environments, the strategy seeks to stimulate healthier lifestyle choices and reduce the overconsumption of unhealthy products amongst children.

But this isn’t just a UK issue.

Our second podcast guest, marketing guru and host of the US-based Gooder podcast, Diana Fryc shared similar experiences from across the pond. She explained the impact that good comms strategies can have on the food decisions in the US and referenced some great examples of marketing healthier food choices from big-name brands such as McDonalds.

Diana also highlighted how Covid-19 has influenced consumers’ purchasing habits as pre-prepared meal-kits offering healthier options have really taken off. The question now is, as things return to normal, will marketing professionals have to work harder to maintain these sales or will people revert to pre-Pandemic bad habits?

Can a generation of fast-food, take-away fanatics be influenced by society’s marketing professionals? Well-known brands certainly have the resources to guide consumer habits. Surely, they should take this opportunity to educate the public about having a more balanced diet and encourage them to introduce more natural produce into their diets. It’s a challenging but important subject with many questions to answer. One thing we do know through our experience in the agri-food sector is that targeted messaging and creative thinking from our ‘straight from the farm’ producers, can have a positive impact on the sales of natural, healthy food and drink.

*Davies, S.C. Time to Solve Childhood Obesity, Department of Health Social Care 2019

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