While the region’s obesity and diabetes rates remain firmly at the top of global rankings, Michael Poe and Per Sundelin, senior consultants at the Healthy Marketing Team, believe a change is finally coming. This visible in plans such as the UAE’s Vision 2021 strategy which puts a strong emphasis on health. According to Poe, both brands and governments will be the key drivers in making a change towards healthy eating.
“Why have governments started to take it so seriously now? Because they’ve opened the books and said, look how much this costs us. Healthcare is free in the region, funded by governments – so if they don’t do something now, it becomes unsustainable. So they will play a pivotal role,” said Poe.
“And when we talk to brand owners, they start to realise that consumers are starting to skip that Coke, and choosing juice or iced tea. From a very low level of awareness and action, it is changing – and for brand movers, the first-mover advantage is tremendous,” he added.
Poe is clear that food producers and governments have to work together: “I think there’s likely to be a greater collaboration between the government and private sectors, to say hey, we need to do something about this – neither can do it on their own, or it would take a really long time.”
But while change is inevitable, Poe and Sundelin acknowledge it will not come quickly – but by going after health-minded consumers, producers can start to change the market. According to Sundelin, the first step is to look at basic brand strategy and segmentation.
“Take a dairy and juice producer – they have basic flavours, quite high sugar levels. They’re in the mass-market, and they will remain there – but when they start to take this innovation journey, it’s to target different groups,” he said.
“That will of course then drive the whole mass. If you add the engines of change, new innovations and products, that will give certain consumer segments, the trend-setters, what they’re after – and that will affect the mass-market. It will create a movement,” Sundelin added.
Keep it realistic
But he emphasised there are also traps to avoid: “Don’t look at the mass market directly – don’t be seduced by thinking ‘I want to be in the mass market straight away’. You don’t need to be super-niche, but you need to look at it as an evolution – you can’t immediately say you want to replace the mass market products. Very often we see that happen – and it leads to failure.”
Sundelin said brands also need to understand how certain ingredients are perceived, and link them to health benefits: “Consumers are not interested – and it’s the same here as everywhere else. You can have a long list of all the vitamins on the package – for you that will mean something, and for me it will mean something different. What are the benefits? Link ingredients with the right benefits, and be benefits-focused when you talk to consumers.”
He links this to brand trust – and gives the example of the failure of Diet Coke Plus, Coca-Cola’s attempt to introduce a drink with added vitamins and antioxidants. It was launched in 2007 and discontinued four years later after rounds of controversy and a warning from the US Food and Drug Administration.
“Even the masters of marketing, Coke can get it completely wrong. It was a complete failure – because the benefits weren’t credible. Coke didn’t have the brand credibility. Can you, for that specific segment or segments, have these ingredients with these specific benefits that’s actually seen and believed and credible enough?” asked Sundelin.