The government’s anti-obesity Change4Life campaign has been trying to get people to change their eating habits since it launched at the start of last year, but research by Kantar Worldpanel – which has been seen exclusively by Marketing Week – indicates that progress is slow.
Kantar’s study shows that 21% of consumers now choose food because of its healthy qualities – up from 11% in 1995. However, although people may aim to eat more healthily, the survey suggests that consumption of fat and salt is on the rise. Calories per pack are also increasing steadily up to an average of 638 (see stats on page 24).
This means that the onus will be on brands to communicate a healthy eating message, suggests Giles Quick, a director at Kantar Worldpanel. Reformulation by food makers is the most effective way to reduce the consumption of saturated fat, salt and sugar, he adds.
Trying to persuade people to eat less or switch from a biscuit to an apple as a snack, as Change4Life tries to do, is more challenging than making preferred products healthier. “It is quite hard to change eating habits dramatically. Building on existing purchasing habits and behaviour means that reformulation is the most successful way,” says Quick.
Food marketers have the additional challenge of making sure that a reformulation doesn’t turn off customers, adds Quick. “Manufacturers are facing quite a difficult situation. I think it is absolutely critical that the product retains the same taste credentials.
“Having worked with Walkers, I know the great lengths that [parent company PepsiCo] went to when switching from one oil to another to strip out some of the saturated fat from its core brand. It took quite a time because it was really anxious to make sure the same taste quality was delivered,” he explains.
Walkers switched to a lower fat oil in 2008, using Gary Lineker in TV advertising to talk about this ingredient change the same year. The reformulation was also communicated on-pack, which Quick says is the best place for marketers to promote information about ingredient changes. “Your core purchaser is going to buy it as normal and then see on-pack that it is better for them,” he says.
About 10% of products are reformulated by brands each year, which has helped consumers reduce their salt consumption. For example, the amount of salt in chilled ready meals was reduced by 4.6% between 2008 and 2009, and table sauces saw a 3.3% reduction in salt over the same period.
This has contributed to a 6.3% overall reduction of salt in processed foods between 2006 and 2009 and the study suggests that 70% of the reduction in salt consumption is due to the reformulation of products rather than consumers changing their eating or purchasing habits. United Biscuits is one such company that is aiming to show its customers that it is taking steps to reduce salt content with a reformulation programme for brands such as Hula Hoops and Skips crisps.
The challenge with marketing healthier food is that it doesn’t appear to resonate with all social classes, says Quick. For example, C2, D and DE demographic groups buy more sodium, saturates and sugar than those in AB and C1 groups.
He says: “It is surprising that there is still a perception that eating healthily is expensive and therefore health as a reason for choice is more correlated with consumers who receive higher incomes. In other words, the more you earn the more likely you are to make healthy choices.”
Quick calls lower demographic groups the nutritional underclass. “The less affluent will over-purchase and therefore over-consume saturated fat, sugar, salt and tend to buy more convenience foods and snack more,” he says.
While this is happening, more affluent consumers have been influenced by campaigns such as Change4Life. “At the margins, this has had a particular effect on the more affluent classes. And more than anything, having children has had an impact.
“Even though you may not be anxious to make personal positive choices, seeing frightening stats and exposés relating to kids could make you make positive choices on their behalf,” he says. Fruit in lunchboxes is up 3% while chocolate biscuit bars are down 8% between 2009 and 2010.
Quick thinks that similar to some brand-led sustainability campaigns such as the “I’m not a plastic bag” push by social change body We Are What We Do and Marks & Spencer’s decision to charge for some carrier bags, it may take a supermarket brand to lead a healthy eating campaign that will appeal to all classes.
“I think ultimately one of the retailers will make a stand. At the moment they are all fencing around the edges and no one has really entered this space. Either a smaller retailer or a supermarket that collects purchasing data through a loyalty card might say: ’have you realised that over the last year you are buying too much saturated fat, and if you switch from this to that, it will make a difference’.
“I think it will happen in the next three or four years. As soon as they do that, manufacturers will be forced to fall in line and the whole market will shift.”
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Director of corporate and government affairs
Over the last 10 years, Heinz has responded to consumer concerns over health, along with growing trends for convenience, by reducing the amount of salt and sugar in its beans, pasta, sauces and organic ranges.
Heinz has long been committed to progressive salt reduction and has a partnership with the Food Standards Agency. Most recently, we launched a reduced salt alternative to the classic soup range, with 25% less salt.
The entire soup range is already within the FSA’s salt target for 2010, but Heinz knows that consumers are growing increasingly aware of the level of salt in food.
Mums are concerned about what their children are eating and Heinz has repackaged some products accordingly. For example, the pasta portfolio packaging was redesigned to connect with new consumers.
Nutrition manager brands and innovation
Breakfast cereals tend to be low in fat and saturated fat and account for less than 1% of the nation’s fat consumption. We market our foods to be eaten as part of a balanced breakfast, which includes fruit or juice.
Kellogg’s Coco Pops cereals have been revamped. There will be a 15% reduction in sugar in the range by mid-2011, which will be one and a half teaspoons per serving.
This is part of the continuous journey to improve the nutrition profile of products, both current and new, without comprom-ising taste.
The sugar will be replaced with starch from grains and glucose syrup; no artificial sweeteners will be used. The calorific value will remain at about 116 calories per serving.
We’ve listened to what mums have been saying and we’re responding. They want a balance of lower sugar cereals that children will still eat. This is a process, so while we’ve announced we are taking 15% of sugar out by the middle of next year, we will go further if we can take people’s palates with us.
Company nutritionist Marks & Spencer
We definitely see health as a strong motivator in how consumers are looking at food. We have a number of ways to make that easier with the Eat Well logo and ranges such as Count On Us, which is 10 years old.
We find that people are really good for a certain part of the week and it’s a debit-credit where we see them being more indulgent later on in the week.
In terms of reformulation, we have looked at salt across all our product ranges and they are significantly lower in salt than they were five or six years ago.
Obesity figures are bad, but it is not a problem that happens overnight or will be solved overnight. What is really needed is an educational programme in schools, to drive the message from quite a young age.
As a retailer, our role is to provide solutions to make it easier for people to control their weight, which we do through menu plans and making the labelling easier. But it’s not simple because people’s relationship with food is quite complex.
Behavioural change is not only down to the retailer but everyone working together. We have had a reformulation strategy over the last 10 years but you have to do it slowly so that customers adjust their taste buds.
We are looking at more ranges for January to help customers live healthier lifestyles. In terms of calorie intake and portion size that is about offering a range and communicating that clearly.
A big passion for us is getting the balance between how much you eat and how much you exercise. There is so much more scope to encourage people to become more physically active and we don’t have any initiatives at the moment. But it is part of Plan A to launch initiatives designed to get our customers to be more active.