HIE 2006: Communication key to healthy profits

By Anthony Fletcher in Frankfurt

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food companies, Nutrition

HIE 2006: Food firms must successfully communicate the beneficial
effects of their products if they are to get ahead of the pack.

This was one of the take-home messages from Frankfurt.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the nutritional value of certain ingredients but are also becoming increasingly confused in a world of claims and counter-claims.

New Zealand-based science firm Hort Research was at HIE to give food and beverage companies an idea about the potential of fruit as a key value-added ingredient bursting with health-promoting properties.

"What were putting forward is the premise of thinking about superfruits,"​ said senior communications advisor Roger Bourne. "Three things that consumers are concerned about are sensory attributes such as taste; health; and convenience.

"The perception of the 'health halo' around fruit therefore presents food makers with opportunities."

Healthy ingredients derived from fruit are increasingly entering the mainstream. As Bourne pointed out, you only had to look around the HIE show to see that fruit was being used as branding everywhere.

"It's an up-front image. But food companies can take this a lot further. So far the focus has been on getting more fruit into beverages, but the possibilities are huge."

To truly succeed however, food companies must be able to communicate better the positive aspects of fruit as an ingredient. To do this, they need to identify exactly what it is that consumers are looking for.

"We would argue that brands should concentrate on promoting a specific benefit,"​ said Bourne. "Some efforts to associate fruit to health have been a bit scattergun, and not very effective.

"Instead, food companies should pick one benefit and run with it. Otherwise, the message is going to get lost."

This was also the message of Mintel's presentation at HIE, which focused on ingredients and the claims and positioning associated with them. David Jago, director of customer solutions at Mintel, told delegates that he had seen significant growth in 'natural' and 'naturally rich' positioning.

"Companies are focusing on ingredients that are familiar, and the claims made are often nature, not science-based. There are many more opportunities here to communicate to consumers, and these have not as yet been tapped."

Jago talked about how products are increasingly being formulated for specific groups."This is an interesting development,"​ he said. "And we are often seeing an implicit link through brand name."

In the UK for example, Kingsmill 'HeadStart' bread contains Omega 3, and the brand name is used to imply the link between the ingredient and cognitive function benefit. This shows a food company identifying a perceived ingredient benefit, and really hammering home a simple yet effective message.

"Kraft USA's maccarone and cheese product illustrates just how far one can take the concept of a 'natural' product,"​ said Jago. "The product is not fortified it is simply advertised as being a good source of calcium, whole grain and vitamins.

"The lesson is that food makers should be aware that consumers perceive 'natural' to being better than fortification."

Bourne adds that consumers are also more nutritionally aware than ever, and that there is a bigger onus on manufacturers to communicate benefits. But the rewards for good communication are potentially huge.

"People are buying fruit and veg because of specific properties broccoli for cancer, for example. And they are prepared to pay."

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