When ‘the establishment’ begin to send out these messages, not only in political terms but those that affect health and well being, perhaps it’s no surprise that consumers are looking elsewhere for trusted food and nutrition guidance.
The European horse meat scandal and the watering down of the UK Government’s obesity strategy are examples that have reduced the trust consumers previously had in authority.
It’s a subject that will be presented in depth by Erin Boyd Kappelhof, managing partner at food and nutrition communications agency Eat Well Global at this year’s FoodVision in London.
Kappelhof aims to highlight new methods of information distribution in the health and nutrition sector, where traditional outlets are being replaced by instant, real-time interaction that are as far-reaching and influential than ever.
“There’s no doubt that trust has been eroded in many ‘established’ authorities,” she said. “We think it’s time for companies, governments, even health authorities to take a huge step back and take a totally fresh look at how they fund, conduct and communicate science.
“The old way is not working and in the absence of trust, it won’t get anyone very far. We’re working on some approaches to address this right now.”
No sound scientific basis
Part of the problem, according to Kappelhof is a distinct lack of governmental regulation that allows free reign for anyone to set themselves up as an ‘expert’ on health and nutrition.
Perhaps, more worryingly, selected communication channels such as Twitter and YouTube chosen by these influencers are those frequented by a younger more impressionable audience, who are more likely to take this advice as fact.
Current regulatory practices in the UK and US require registered dietitians to be rigorously educated and trained.
In addition, they receive ongoing continuing education about the latest nutrition science and how it can be applied to people’s daily habits and food choices.
But despite this, Kappelhof said it didn’t stop other people from selling their own personal philosophies on diet and health – often involving a quick fix or ‘magic’ ingredient.
“Unfortunately for the consumer, this sort of advice often lacks a sound scientific basis.”
Kappelhof is in a better position than most to comment on the changes that consumers are dictating in how they want to be informed and by who.
Her communications agency, Eat Well Global, which works closely with large food manufacturers, health organisations, ingredient companies and technology start-ups, regularly address the long-term effects unreliable information can have on reputations and/or a food's nutritional claims.
In equal measure, she is also seeing first-hand the changes these organisations have implemented to foster trust in a product’s origins and production.
“Even some of the most conservative and traditional brands are responding to the increasing demand for authenticity and transparency in all forms of communication,” she said.
“Paid spokespeople use their own words and sometimes even approach the brands themselves because they’re already believers. Unpaid influencers, who become brand ‘evangelists’ are even more credible.”
Tailoring a global strategy
Kappelhof added that for a brand, there’s nothing better than authentic support because the truth shines directly through to the consumers.
She acknowledged that there was always the risk that an influencer will say or do something that conflicts with a brand’s message.
“But the benefits often outweigh the risks and companies are getting more comfortable with that.”
An additional challenge, particularly for multinationals, is how communication can be tailored to regional variations.
Worldwide marketing approaches are now looking to harness on-the-ground expertise and insights without verging into the age-old problem of resorting to ‘corporate speak.’
“Global strategies – especially related to health and nutrition – are powerful and I would love to see more of them!” said Kappelhoff.
“The challenge is localising those global strategies to make them relevant to all of their consumers. Sometimes that means there are drastic geographic differences in how an issue, product or ingredient is perceived.”
“Balancing global strategies with local relevance is one of the things that excites me the most about the work we do.”
Interested in learning more about this issue? Then join other food and drink industry leaders at Food Vision from 1 – 3 March 2017 in London.
Organised by William Reed, the publisher of FoodNavigator, this industry event brings together CEOs, academics and top scientists for three days of interactive conferences and networking sessions on how to drive sustainable growth and profitability in global nutrition, food and beverage markets.