Increased scrutiny gives food brands opportunity to educate

Nutrition-related news, such as the USDA's dietary guidelines, the Grocery Manufacturers Association's labeling initiative, and first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move effort, has prompted several new food-related campaigns.

Nutrition-related news, such as the USDA's dietary guidelines, the Grocery Manufacturers Association's labeling initiative, and first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move effort, has prompted several new food-related campaigns. And this "perfect storm" of heightened scrutiny among CPG food brands is inspiring marketers to tweak messaging and layer educational components onto existing efforts.

Campbell's, which has for years touted reduced sodium across its portfolio, is "building on a foundation" it laid down some time ago, says Juli Mandel Sloves, senior manager of nutrition and wellness communications at Campbell Soup Co.

"The fact that there's more going on in the external environment has caused us to have a more robust program this year," she says, adding that the company benchmarks its portfolio and how it's positioned in part based on what the government is recommending.

What consumers lack

This year, the government is recommending more fruits and vegetables. It's an area that's dominating food and beverage companies' messaging and PR programs. It's also one that's related both to new policy and brand action about what consumers are lacking.

Janet Helm, chief food and nutrition strategist at Weber Shandwick, says, "We're not just talking about the foods we're consuming too much of. We are also talking about where we're falling short."

In line with that notion are client efforts such as Milk's "Pour One More" campaign, which emphasizes that Americans need at least one more serving of low-fat milk a day, a statement supported by the dietary guidelines.

While promoting benefits related to what consumers lack, Campbell's is also building educational messages around its long-established positioning with salt reduction. The efforts, associated with its support of the Grocery Manufacturers Association's front-of-package labeling initiative, are tied to a goal to simplify packaging metrics for consumers.

Sloves adds that, this spring, when the consumer-facing elements of the dietary guidelines come out, Campbell's marketing team will execute additional education programs supported mainly by PR and social media.

"PR has a tremendous role to play, even more than advertising," notes Helm.

She says PR's rising role in providing details on product developments and guidelines relates to heightened interaction via social media, where consumers are increasingly finding health information and recipes.

ConAgra is another food company to have boosted its nutritional marketing efforts across brands as a result of research showing proven consumer interest in health.

It recently launched a Hunt's campaign that associated tomatoes with heart health, via a tomato symposium at the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Conference. The brand invited bloggers and noticed that, as a result, 100% of online posts associated the brand with heart health benefits.

"We wanted to broaden awareness of our studies in more of a consumer messaging way," says Regina DeMars, director of PR and social media at Hunt's.

Clearer messaging

It is also trying to communicate that popcorn is a whole grain, a fact largely unknown, she explains, and more evident than ever on its Orville Redenbacher's packaging and in the team's communications efforts.

DeMars adds Hunt's will use this whole grain positioning as it builds cross-category marketing campaigns around healthier snacking.

Whole grains also remain top of mind for CPG companies such as General Mills, which has long focused on that positioning and recently bought Google search ads for the searches "nutritional guidelines" and "dietary guidelines," linking to its microsite

"Consumers are being encouraged from every angle to make positive changes to their diets," says Lisa Wolleon, VP at Coyne. "There are so many mixed messages."

As a result, she adds, the firm is looking to continue to simplify messages and educate consumers about foods they already eat that have whole grains, omega 3, vitamin D, and antioxidants.

Marketing efforts from bigger CPG companies that move the quickest and gain consumer confidence will come out on top, concludes Wolleon.

Dietary Guidelines - Select messages for consumers

Balancing calories

•Enjoy your food, but eat less

•Avoid consuming oversized portions

Foods to increase

•Make half your plate fruits and vegetables

•Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk

Foods to reduce

•Compare sodium in foods such as soup, bread, and frozen meals and choose products with lower numbers

•Drink water instead of sugary drinks

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