Food manufacturers must challenge “lavatorial” perceptions of fibre to market products more effectively, according to the boss of food research group MMR.
Speaking at a conference on dietary fibre at Leatherhead Food Research, MMR chairman and chief executive Professor David Thomson stressed the urgent need for a marketing drive given that UK adults consume only 12g of fibre daily, well below the government guideline amount of 18g.
“As a consumer scientist I am disappointed that campaigns such as ‘five-a-day’ have not had greater resonance, but I am not surprised given the almost lavatorial public perceptions of fibre amongst consumers,” he said.
Need to push ‘brand fibre’
Taking a sideswipe at the packaging of nutritional drinks such as Ensure Vanilla Shake and Boost Nutritional Energy Drink, Prof. Thomson said:
“Who in their right mind would eat these products given the disgusting packaging? They look like something I would put into the engine of my car and are aesthetically sub-optimal.
“This is symbolic of nutrition as a discipline and not just fibre. Nutritional food science is highly effective, but still naïve regarding the ethics of consumer choice.”
Prof. Thomson cited the memorable slogan: ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play’ as evidence of a sophisticated catchphrase that was “sub-consciously efficacious”, given that Mars Bars are not renowned for their high nutritional value.
“We need a similar resonance for fibre – a massive task because changing consumer behaviour is tantamount to building a brand from scratch.
“To add value to a brand we need marketing that is clever, catchy, even crass, to plant that seed of unconscious desire in the consumer’s mind.
“If the government is serious about increasing fibre consumption then they need to apportion a larger marketing budget. Mars did not create their brand aura without one, and it’s hard to communicate fibre’s positive aspects to the public otherwise.
“Intangible, non-conscious choices are crucial in producing a positive emotional outcome – pleasure in the sensory characteristics of products and association with brands we like drives our thought processes.”
Prof. Thomson said producers such as Kellogg’s had taken giant steps to create conceptual aura around high fibre products such as cereal bars, but building ‘brand fibre’ on a wider industry level would take far longer.
Fibre intake depressingly low
2008/9 results published this February in the ongoing National Diet & Nutrition Survey – which benchmarks progress towards the state’s nutrition targets against the eating habits of a core group of 1,000 UK citizens – substantiate Prof. Thomson’s call for the government and food industry to market fibre more effectively.
NDNS 2008/9 co-editor Professor Alison Lennox cited results at the same conference showing that consumption of wholegrain/high fibre cereals has fallen amongst 11-18 year-olds: this group only consumes 11g per day now compared to 13g in 1997.
Within the same category 19-64 year-olds now only consume 19g a day compared with 22g in 2000/1, while there were more marked falls across all three age groups (if we include four to 11 year-olds) where general cereal consumption goes.
However, Lennox said one positive aspect of the survey was increased fibre intake (salad, vegetables, fruit) amongst four to 11 year-olds, which she attributed to increased uptake of wholegrain cereals.
Lennox also said the COMA recommendation that UK adults consume 18g of non-starch polysaccharide or NSP (fibre) per day – based on a healthy daily faecal output of 100g – was unlikely to change soon, despite higher GDAs in other EU countries.
“We still face enormous challenges to bring fibre intake up to what it should have been since the last burst of enthusiasm for fibre in the 1970s. It’s certainly disturbing to see some of the figures for fibre intake going down,” she said.