Jennifer John, Ceres: Adapt to the age of austerity

PROS need to be on top of changing trends and regulations in order to deliver credible campaigns

Jennifer John, Ceres
Jennifer John, Ceres

As we enter the second half of 2009, it is clear that the economic situation has made a
huge impact on consumer behaviour.

We are learning to live in a new age of austerity and, as a result, certain trends are emerging - home baking, packed lunches, growing vegetables and scratch cooking are all on the rise.
For all that, PR and marketing professionals need to be aware that many ‘mega trends' are still developing unabated, and these offer both opportunities and pitfalls. They include ethical
shopping, obesity and weight management, and functional foods.

The past few years have seen the rise of the ethical shopper, establishing a niche positioning for many brands. However, to survive in the current economic climate, ‘ethical' needs to be
combined with ‘value'. Although core organic food shoppers are largely remaining true to their
principles, the credit crunch has affected the less committed, and brands need to adapt to this.
The decision to downgrade the ‘organic' from the Rachel's yoghurt range to make the brand more accessible to a broader audience highlights the difficulty with a niche positioning in the
current climate.

Indeed, ethics are no longer the preserve of speciality foods; they are becoming an integral part of the positioning of mainstream brands too. Recently, Cadbury announced that
all its dairy milk chocolate would be made using fair-trade cocoa - a move welcomed by fair trade supporters, who hope to see all chocolate sold as fair trade in the near future.

Obesity is one trend we can no longer afford to ignore, given its associated health risks and growing prevalence. Hence the introduction this year of the Government's Change for Life programme, the Food Standards Agency's Saturated Fat campaign, and revised salt reduction targets. All these initiatives mean PR professionals working in this sector will really need to understand the facts and related issues in order to deliver effective and accurate communication.

At a European level, the discussion around Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations continues. The Nutrient Profiling System that will underpin the regulation, and govern which foods can make nutrition and health claims, will set maximum levels for fat, salt and sugar in foods
marketed as ‘healthy'. Reformulation and nutritional renovation will be top priorities for food companies over the next few years. Shrewd marketers are already engaging nutritionists and regulatory experts in their new product development process. They will need to ensure that concepts in the pipeline not only meet consumer needs, but will stand up to tougher regulatory scrutiny.

The stringent approach taken by  the European Food Safety Authority has led to more than 80 per cent of health claim applications being rejected so far. For all the new legislation and labelling, there are still conflicting messages about food and what we should and should not be eating.

According to a survey by the Food Standards Agency, mixed messages on healthy eating
have left the public bewildered and confused over what constitutes a ‘healthy diet'.

PR remains one of the most important disciplines for health and wellness marketing. The depth and level of detail offered helps to convey complex nutrition messages to the consumer in
an effective and engaging way. By combining nutrition and regulatory knowledge with consumer
insight, specialist PR agencies can continue to deliver credible and successful campaigns for their clients.

Views in brief

If your agency was a food or drink brand, which would it be? Dorset
Cereals. It has great packaging, an honest and transparent ethos, and it tastes
good. It is an excellent brand from all perspectives, which I hope we offer too.

Which brand has best caught the public mood in its communications
over the past six months?
Aldi. It has empathised with its customers and
shown it understands their problems. The use of Phil Vickery - a chef with a
family and a down-to-earth approach - and the slogan ‘spend a little, live a lot'
has ensured the brand reaches formerly more affluent shoppers, without
making them feel they have traded down.

Jennifer John is managing director of Ceres

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