food and drinks industry, there’s a clamouring from multiple directions for
manufacturers to take responsibility for making their products healthier and to
reduce salt / sugar / fat etc. On the
one hand, there is demand placed on manufacturers in the UK from the government
(with an eye on cutting down public health bills). Many manufacturers have already signed up to
specific actions as part of the Responsibility
different levels of commitment required.
Supposed social pressure is also rife, with companies that once enjoyed
high levels of success as lunchbox staples being forced to reconsider
formulations or innovate to be deemed suitable under school policies. The spotlight of social and political
pressure is firmly on manufacturers to take positive steps to reformulation, even
in categories which are not traditionally regarded as healthy.
with this, there seems to be nothing that the British press like more than
naming and shaming manufacturers and finding flaws in their health
credentials. No one is safe, especially
not well-known (and loved) brands! Often
confusing, there are a wealth of messages filtering out to consumers on a
regular basis, thus placing even more pressure on manufacturers. Avoiding
reformulation isn’t an option!
But what do consumers want?
consumers demanding that manufacturers make their products healthier? Are they calling for food and drink companies
to reduce or even remove salt and sugar content? Our research has shown that UK consumers are
actually pretty pragmatic and on the whole seem to take responsibility for
their own diets and how healthy they are.
Just 12% claim that they think food manufacturers should take primary
responsibility for the amount of sugar in their diet (vs. 84% thinking that it
is their own responsibility). To provide
a bit of context, this figure is nearly four times higher in China, with
consumers in this market placing more onus on manufacturers. Therefore, surely manufacturers ‘proactively’
looking to reformulate their products should be positively received - an added
that’s not always the case, and getting it right isn’t easy! As Kellogg’s found out in 2013, consumers are much less
accepting of product changes which impact their overall consumption experience
or even if they can just notice a difference. Large positive changes to the
Original Special K variant (including an 11% reduction in salt and 40%
reduction in saturated fat) were positively received on the whole. But in today’s connected world of social
media where every consumer has a voice, the backlash was picked up by The
Grocer and Kellogg’s was forced to justify their move. This additional context, where the voice of
the few and opinion of the minority can be heard by many, adds even more
pressure to manufacturers on the journey to reformulation.
Consumers want to have their cake
and eat it!
are particularly unforgiving of changes to well-known and loved products (often
giving Own Label equivalents a head start in the race for reformulation). We asked UK consumers if they would be
prepared to sacrifice taste for food and drink products to be made
healthier. Whilst we appreciate that the
simplicity of this direct question hides the deeper and more complex
relationship people have with food and the drivers of choice we were interested
in the relative importance people claim to place on the health vs. taste
spectrum. Results showed a roughly even
split – with 47% claiming they would be willing to make the sacrifice (11%
strongly agreeing) vs. 53% not prepared to sacrifice taste (21% strongly
disagreeing). This is partly driven by
the fact that today, so many healthier options that are also tasty are
available on the market. But it also
reflects that for a large proportion of consumers, health concerns are not
their top priority. We therefore need to
understand broader consumer attitudes to health and well-being in order to
identify the areas in which reformulation can represent the biggest
opportunities. A further sign of the
majority of UK consumers being fairly pragmatic is evidenced by the fact that
60% claim to follow the principle of ‘everything in moderation’ when it comes
to their diet. However, when we look at
the bigger picture, health is on the radar!
Just under half of consumers are concerned about or are looking to
improve their health – showing that there is an opportunity to connect with
them as manufacturers. Although this
could be through education and links with other activities as well as through
reformulation. Half claim they check
ingredients labels when shopping, a higher proportion than the third claiming
to check GDA information. Coupled with
the growing trend for clean label, shows the importance of giving careful
consideration to what is going in to products as well as what is coming out! Even if the reformulation is making a product
better for consumers on the whole (with a reduction in salt, sugar, fat for
example), we need to be mindful of the whole ingredients list and how that will
be received by consumers.
do recognise that their diets can improve – sugar being seen as the ‘nasty’ which
is most top of mind for consumers with nearly half feeling that they have too
much in their diets. However, we also
see 1 in 5 claiming they have too much Sweeteners in their diet – a trend I
expect we’ll see continue with a growing cynicism around artificial sugar
replacements in particular. Macro health
trends (such as adopting a long view on health rather than quick fix diets and
recognition of the specific health benefits intrinsically offered by
ingredients) provide the context within which reformulated products are judged
and are thus important to keep in mind when planning product changes. They can be evidenced by the evolution of
categories over time, echoing the changing landscape of consumer demand – for
example chilled yoghurts have seen a shift from convenience / pleasure based
single desserts, to a proliferation of diet / light offerings, to products
offering specific health benefits to today’s latest trend of intrinsic health
as delivered by Greek yoghurt taking the US by storm.
despite this apparent lack of demand from consumers, manufacturers have to take
the lead because if you wait for consumers then it will be too late – and you
can guarantee your competitors will be there first!
advocating a change in attitude so that reformulation is regarded holistically
as a strategic means for gaining competitive advantage and not simply a
necessity forced upon us by social and political pressure. To this end, we have distilled our experience
from working with many manufacturers over the years to help them reformulate
their products into five key suggestions.
Work with consumers
with consumers from an early stage helps to take the guess work out of product
reformulation and increase your chance of getting it right first time rather than
going through multiple rounds of prototype development and testing. It’s important to understand how much scope
there is to tweak product delivery and how much flexibility consumers will
allow in return for a healthier product.
Whilst the starting point for reformulation is often in the lab or
kitchen, understanding the parameters from the outset defines the job in
hand and how the reformulation will need to be staged. What’s more, early consumer connection can
help guide the context for the relaunch for example whether changes should be
communicated and how to ensure that the whole proposition is compelling.
Have a holistic view
reformulating, don’t just focus on the most infamous nasty at any given
time. Adopt a holistic approach to
assess the full ingredients list and manufacturing process. You may uncover opportunities to make product
improvements and even identify cost saving opportunities whilst
reformulating. Understanding the role
that each sensory attribute plays in terms of contributing and reinforcing your
brand equity will help define what can / can’t be changed or at least the level
of risk associated with product changes.
With the growing clean lable trend and the consumer tendency of using
‘natural’ as a heuristic for healthy potential exists here to connect with
people and drive competitive advantage through reformulation.
Don’t just focus on removing
making product changes, consider potential for adding good stuff in! For example considering whether alternative
ingredients are more positively received by consumers or offer specific
benefits. However, again it is important
to understand the level of permission from consumers to tamper with their
products so don’t neglect consideration of your natural credentials or
underestimate consumer cynicism.
Consider too your supporting comms – it might not always be appropriate
to call out product changes even if they are improving a product from a health
Aim for love not just like
saw earlier, consumers are split in terms of the level of importance they place
on health. Reformulation targeting
mainstream acceptance is likely to result in average at best products which
fail to delight either those that are taste driven or those seeking healthier
options. Understand who you will be
targeting and how / if this might change following reformulation. Then optimise your product with these people
Improve delivery of brand promise
beyond liking when assessing the acceptability of your product changes to
consumers and recognise that reformulation can be an opportunity to increase
the delivery of your brand promise.
Deeper emotional and functional benefits are driven by sensory
characteristics and it is at this deeper level that a less conscious reaction
to the proposition occurs and determines whether the product lives up to
expectations or not. Understanding the
conceptualisations that sensory attributes cue and the impact that
reformulating a product has on the emotional and functional benefits delivered
by the product is essential to ensure that the overall experience is not
product needs to change sensorially then understanding the impact this has on
the consumer experience and scope to amend your positioning to better fit will
help ensure that you maintain a consonant and satisfying consumer experience
these top 5 tips in mind when embarking on reformulation as well as the broader
context within which consumers will receive your product will help you
capitalise on the opportunity that reformulation can present.