I attended the Food and Drink Federation conference, Staying On Shelf. Its aim was to give manufacturers insight into the rather fractious ‘sugar debate’.
FDF Director General Ian Wright, who in the interests of transparency is my former boss from Diageo, hit the nail on the head when introducing the day when he warned that so much of the debate is reminiscent of alcohol. From the actors, the scope and the demands as well as the role of the World Health Organisation. A lot can be learned from how the alcohol debate has developed and in particular how manufacturers have responded. Not that everything the alcohol industry has done has worked, but they know they have a legitimate seat at the table, and need to play their part in developing solutions to alcohol misuse. The problem you get is when some opponents try to take away the legitimacy of manufacturers to have a view, to be at the table. And when some manufactures take their seat for granted… Ultimately, doing nothing is not an option if you want to stay relevant.
Another link with alcohol is being clear who the people the obesity strategy is meant to be helping – who are the misusers? One area that is obvious is that you can’t break the inextricable link between childhood obesity and social deprivation. You can’t ignore the key fact that children generally see the same advertising, have the same availability of food and same information. Yet, why is it that childhood obesity is often a bigger issue for people from poorer backgrounds? Like alcohol, the assumption that you can instill broad brushed policy responses that doesn't take into account specific harm, within specific communities, is a problem.
It is in this context that the debate must be held. Not with blunt, universal measures that don’t tackle the core issues of food pricing, availability and the old chestnut of clearer, easier information that enables people to make the best choices for their family.
This will be first of a series of blogs that I will share from the conference. First up is a whistle stop tour of what we can expect from the upcoming obesity strategy (expected to be announced in summer 2016) and some thoughts on how it relates to alcohol.
There is not a lot new here, though what is clear is that when you take out some of the more emotive players you hopefully come up with a coherent strategy. Brands and manufacturers have every opportunity to be leaders here. They do need to think about the shopper and the end consumer in how they talk about their products. They need to think about what they stand for, what their role is in the community and how they can be better participants in the interests of the people who consume their products. Profit and the relevance of their brand will only be the better for it, but it does mean taking bold, decisive action.
More on that soon! You may be interested in a previous blog asking if regulation makes you a lazy or brilliant marketer.