Why culture eats regulation for breakfast

Friends eating at a table.jpg

Business management guru Peter Drucker coined the well known phrase 'culture eats strategy for breakfast'.  It implies the strength and nature of an organisation's culture is more powerful at influencing company operations than a highly developed strategy.

When it comes to effectively addressing and improving future food choices, this saying has equal applicability.

While watching the recent episode of Four Corners on the ABC on whether Australia should have a sugar tax, I found myself siding with the comments of a Queensland sugar cane farmer. When asked about his thoughts on the issue his reply was "I just am opposed to taxes upon taxes upon taxes. I just don't think it's the right way to get the message across. It's a cultural thing. We need to change the culture of people's eating habits, and education is the best way to do that".

The real problem he said, is not the fact he produces sugar, it's the cultural shift that has occurred in our eating habits.  

And herein lies the real challenge.  The population's intake of sugar and sugary drinks is already on the decline.  People know too much sugar is bad for them. So while a tax may, or may not, accelerate the current decline it could be seen as a distraction to the real problem - and that is, that our food culture is the issue that needs attention.   
Eating on the run, not stopping to appreciate food, over-consuming, eating alone and buying more than we need, are elements of our food culture that sit at the heart of the problem. It's bigger than micro-managing sugar -  what we really need to influence is our cultural appreciation of food and to work on elevating it's valuable role as a contributor to good physical and environmental health and as a facilitator of positive social connections.  

Major inroads into improving dietary intakes will be challenging unless efforts are made to address these issues.  Using the 'carrot' rather than the 'stick', promoting and embracing enjoyment of food and re-connecting with the source of our food, will likely lead us toward a better future for food, and one that supports genuinely good health.

Some considerations around how this can be done by those in the business of food:

  1. Create a culture within your own work place where food is elevated, valued and appreciated. Prioritise time to sit and eat lunch together or to celebrate achievements over a meal.

  2. Cultivate a love of food among the target markets you work with - incorporate marketing and communication activities that support growing, cooking and experimenting with food.

  3. Re-consider constant price promotions - aim to say more about your products than 'on special' this week. Provide more information about the production, distribution and origins of food.

  4. Highlight those who are involved in growing and producing food -  put them forward as expert voices and cultivate an appreciation for the resources and expertise that goes into food production

  5. Research and highlight the cultural connections that your food, or its ingredients, has with its origins.  Consider sharing stories that highlight its role in traditional eating patterns or stories around how it is sourced.

Focusing on how and why we eat, and not simply on what we eat, provides a great opportunity for food marketers to embrace a direction that supports consumers to eat well, to raise their consciousness around their choices and to start cultivating the idea that 'enough' is abundance.  This facilitates a positive food culture that will naturally include sugar in moderation, without a slap on the wrist for buying it.