It May Be a Trend but How Well Does It Connect?

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Last week I visited the Naturally Good Expo, a showcase of newly released products targeting those with an interest in health and wellbeing.

Unlike recent years where tumeric and coconut were dominant, this year it was plant based foods that took centre stage. For anyone interested in food trends, this is no surprise.

'Power to the plants' was identified as one of the industries fastest growing trends by Mintel in 2017 and this high level of interest is now reaching a peak. It's being incorporated into products from alternative burgers to plant based beverages, snacks, children's shakes and ready meals.

I even found cashew nuts carrying a claim on the pack that they were 'plant based'. The plant based food trend is now so popular that even plant foods are claiming they are plant based!

It got me thinking about whether cashew nuts carrying a claim they are plant based is helpful for consumers, or whether it simply adds to the clutter on the label.

When it comes to claims, just because you can say something, doesn't always mean you should.

Incorporating new trends into messaging ideally serves to create a point of difference, or to enhance what is already there, rather than simply adding to the clutter. We are now bombarded with so many messages, that simplicity is becoming increasingly attractive.

As Confucious said:

"Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated".

To assist in determining whether a trend creates a connection with your brand that serves to elevate it and not detract, here are three filters that may be useful to consider:

1. Is this trend the right fit? Just because a shoe might be in fashion, doesn't mean it's going to be the right fit, look good on your feet or most importantly, be comfortable to wear.

It's the same with trends – assessing whether a trend is a good fit and naturally comfortable for your brand is worthwhile. This is particularly relevant for those looking to build brand reputation on quality and integrity over the long term, rather than falling for the temptation of looking good in the short term.

Questions to ask include:

  • Will this trend elevate my product compared to competitors?

  • Does it make nutritional sense to associate this trend with my product?

  • Will messages associated with this trend create clutter or clarity around the positioning of my product?

2. What can you say about it? It's important to be clear about what you can and can't say about a trend in advertising and on pack, but also what you could say if you put more work in.

Always check the food regulations first. If a key message can't be used this can be a real barrier to investment. You may have alternative avenues to turn to and in Australia, these include developing a systematic review of the scientific evidence to support a key message and submitting this to the regulatory body to enable you to make your own unique claim that would otherwise not be allowed.

3. How strong is it? When investing in innovation, labelling, packaging and communications you want to make sure a trend not only has popularity, but also has credibility.

Consumer research will give you an idea of popularity but where relevant, checking for any scientific research to support the trend will provide an idea of credibility. This means doing your due diligence and putting more time and effort into understanding a trend before applying it in practise.

Overall, awareness of trends is just the beginning. Investing time and energy into gaining a deeper understanding of what they mean, their relevance to your brand or product, the degree of research to support them and the impact of the regulations on your ability to talk about them, are all important factors to consider before applying trends to marketing and innovation.

In this way, we will continue to enhance our ability to create and market foods in a way that contributes to a better future and that connects in a meaningful way with the growing, more conscious consumer.

For further details, join my upcoming webinar. https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_B8hgnKWkSheAEtW1mBrLkg

Creating Currency in 'Better'

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At the moment I'm reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, a book about building good habits and breaking bad ones.

The book puts forward the argument that the accumulation of our daily habits is what determines our future.  This means that if we want to get somewhere, its the things we repeat regularly that matter most. 

This idea is somewhat counter to our tendency to consider achievement of the outcome we’re going for as the measure of our success. What Clear is asserting is that it's not actually the goal that matters – it’s the system, or habits we create to reach the goal, that matters more.

"If the system is working, then the outcome will take care of itself" - James Clear.

This thought prompted me to consider how it may apply to food marketing and innovation.   One of the ways we often look to create differentiation in the market is to focus on an outcome. This is frequently linked to a goal such as creating or marketing products as containing ‘the most probiotics’ or ‘the least amount of sugar’ or ‘the highest amount of fibre’.

The Problem with Being the 'Best'

While these outcomes can provide a point of difference in the market, the problem is that eventually we discover there's a floor or a ceiling we can’t get past anymore and at which point such goals become redundant. For example, there is only so much fibre you can put into a product before the amount causes digestive discomfort, rather than contributing positively to good health. 

Similarly with whole foods. There are only so many ways we can influence the natural nutritional profile of a food before we run out of options.

So what would it look like if we focused on creating better habits associated with food consumption, or on setting up better systems associated with food production, packaging and distribution, and started marketing that, rather than focusing on being the 'best', or the 'greatest', the 'lowest' or the 'highest'?

This perspective may be a useful way to help re-direct our thinking, open new avenues for innovation and provide the opportunity to tell better stories about our brands and our products to consumers.

Invest in 'Better'

Investing in encouraging better habits or in creating better food systems can stretch from food production and distribution through to retailing and consumption. There are many options that if adopted, provide infinite ways to differentiate and communicate better stories about our food.

Food reformulation targets are one well known way to invest in 'better', by providing guidelines for food production that result in healthier foods. This in turn creates currency for brands and consumers by providing evidence that a company is meeting consumers desire for 'better for you' foods. 

Other ways to create currency in 'better' include looking for ways to improve methods for farming that reduce environmental inputs, using renewable resources in production, using electric powered vehicles in distribution or encouraging more mindful snacking and consumption habits.

The Benefits of 'Better'

At a time when trust in the food system and trust in the food industry in particular is low, striving for 'better', rather than being the 'best', has a number of advantages:

It can help connect in a more authentic way with the growing, more conscious consumer.  Being perfect or already being the ‘best’ leaves little room for improvement.

It's a clear indicator of transparency – if you are not perfect, and not ‘there’ yet it indicates an openness and honest way of being.

It indicates a commitment to continuous improvement.  Just like a commitment to life long learning is one of the keys to happiness and growth, a commitment to continuous improvement for a business can have a significantly positive influence on company culture.

It may have benefits for teams.  As James Clear outlines, "the problem with a goals first mentality is that you are continually putting happiness off until the next milestone is achieved. A systems first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process, rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied every time your system is running".  

If the system and habits we adopt keep getting better and better, team satisfaction and contentedness also has the potential to keep on improving.

If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your systems and habits instead.  Solve problems at this level and the outputs will look after themselves.