This did not mean manufacturers were not reformulating their products, stressed director of innovation and insight David Jago, simply that they weren’t necessarily shouting about what they had done on the front of pack anymore.
Indeed, the pressure to reduce fat and sugar remained as relentless as ever, with consumer groups, politicians and the Food Standards Agency all urging manufacturers to improve the nutritional profile of their wares, said Jago, who was speaking at Leatherhead Food Research’s food innovation day last week.
But these messages did not always resonate with consumers, he said:“Low-fat, low-sugar and low-calorie claims are not really lighting people’s fires anymore. They are too negative.”
Environmentally-friendly claims grow
By contrast, the percentage of new food and drink launches featuring environmentally-friendly messages on the front of pack had risen from “virtually none” in 2005 to around 4% in 2009, said Jago.
“It all really started to grow from 2007. Take fishing. In 2007, 2% of new fish product launches globally had sustainable messaging. In 2010, so far, it’s 7% of new launches.”
However, not all of the sustainability-related claims made by manufacturers were easily understood by consumers, or indeed stood up to scrutiny, he suggested.
Others were also difficult to validate/challenge because they did not refer to recognised standards or assurance schemes, he said:“One of the new products I came across recently was a bread by Earthgrains in the US made with 20% ‘eco-grain’ wheat, whatever that means.”
Delegates at the event also raised concerns over how environmental claims were being validated and audited, given that a consensus over how to calculate, measure and report them had yet to be reached in some areas, including water footprinting.
However, this didn’t mean that marketers could slap any old ‘greenwash’ on pack, he warned:“There is probably going to be a period of shake-out as claims made by manufacturers are challenged and companies are forced to be more transparent.”
Big brands “too subtle” on sustainability?
Consumer research recently conducted by Leatherhead also suggested that some of the more corporate communications on green issues produced by firms including Marks & Spencer and Coca-Cola were so subtle that consumers did not even recognise which brands were being represented, said market intelligence manager Chris Brockman.
Indeed, only a fraction of consumers shown adverts from M&S promoting its ‘plan A’ approach to sustainability (featuring a woman with long hair) even recognised that they were from M&S, while many assumed the brand promoted was in haircare or beauty.
Even fewer realised that a red-coloured ad currently adorning billboards with the message ‘live positively’ was from Coca-Cola.