By Andrea Tolu
Once upon a time, consumers believed that food brands truly cared about their wellbeing. Now, that trust is at an all-time low.
What broke the spell was the uncovering of certain food companies’ practices, such as using addictive ingredients, marketing sugar-loaded food to kids, and sponsoring favorable research studies. The only thing big brands could reasonably do to bring back consumers’ love was to give them what they asked for: healthier food and more transparency.
Here are four examples of such initiatives, which are likely to change the food market to come.
This shift is not without controversy. Cage-free simply means that chickens are out of the cage, not necessarily roaming outdoors. As was pointed out in a New York Times report, this could even be worse for them, and also for plant workers. On the other hand, this move is a step toward the improved treatment of animals and more nutritious eggs.
In other words, the company will flag (both on packaging and online) those products that should be consumed no more than once per week, due to their high sodium and sugar content. At the same time, other products will be reformulated to make them suitable for more frequent consumption.
Is Mars keeping up with the promise? As it seems, it’s still a work in progress. For example, a Mars bar is described as a “treat that can be enjoyed occasionally as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.” For a Snickers bar, however, the company used the same phrase, but without the word “occasionally.”
Many initiatives are underway around the globe to tackle the issue. Leading supermarket chains, for example, started to donate surplus food to charities. In May 2014, Tesco went a step further and started to publish its food waste data.
In fact, the latest statistics show that Tesco’s food waste went up this year. Transparency is a double-edged sword (which is probably why no other retailer has followed suit so far), but accountability can be a great push to improve.
Café-bakery chain Panera Bread understood all of this early on, adopting a wider approach instead of laser-focused initiatives. In 2014, the company started to use more free-range meat with less antibiotics, and more recently it announced that it will remove artificial flavors and preservatives from its grocery line.
First of all, how they source their ingredients affects everyone, not only their customers. For example, the massive shift to cage-free eggs is likely to change the egg industry forever: By 2025, caged eggs will be the exception.
Second, when profit-driven corporations decide to implement changes that require a considerable logistic effort (or to publish data that could potentially harm their image), it means that the change in consumers’ expectations reached a point of no return. Companies simply can no longer afford to ignore them.
Finally, initiatives like these prove that when enough consumers move in the same direction, they become a force to be reckoned with.
Image credit: Flickr/darvoiteau
Andrea Tolu is a freelance writer who helps startups and companies in the Food&Tech sector build a solid online presence, to find clients and investors. You can reach out to him via Twitter (@), or subscribe to his newsletter.