Surviving the sugar tax
By Anthony Biles, Principal & Creative Director, Biles Hendry
It might be confined to sugary beverages at present, but the potential implications of the UK Soft Drink Industry Levy for all food and drinks brands are hard to ignore, as health campaigners push for a wider rollout of legislation and consumers wise up to the fact that sugar is sugar whatever you call it – naturally occurring sugar, fruit sugar, honey, rice syrup et al.
We’ve already seen some drinks manufacturers, including Irn-Bru, change their recipes in order to drop into or below the lower band. And Coca-Cola has expanded its portfolio to include new non-carbonates that will be exempt from any extra charges.
Sugary brand execs, including those beyond the reach of the latest legislation, need to look ahead and ask themselves what their brand is going to mean in a world where sugar is increasingly frowned upon. They should be thinking about survival – and survival isn’t about hiding.
Being transparent about your offering, taking part in the education of consumers, or even repositioning a product (from ‘healthy snack’ to ‘healthier confectionery’, for example) will help build customer trust and pay dividends in the long term, even if there is a short-term hit.
Of course, all this has been making some brand owners jittery – shifting from ‘everyday healthy’ to ‘now-and-again treat’ is bound to have an impact on sales – but, ultimately, consumers won’t thank you for pulling the wool over their eyes. Brands need to take charge, not hope the problem will go away and risk being outed.
Unsurprisingly, given the two-year build-up, many brands have already kicked into action. Leading babyfood manufacturers, including Ella’s Kitchen, are promoting more veg-based recipes, helping children to develop a healthy relationship with food.
Nutrition snack bars containing honey, maple syrup and the like are talking about their products as part of a wider diet, so people can make wise, balanced choices and keep within healthy sugar limits. They’re owning the debate and being honest with their consumers.
There’s no need for mass panic, however. People probably won’t banish sugar altogether. Lots of us still drink alcohol and indulge in chocolate or fizzy drinks from time to time, despite knowing they’re not great for our health.
As a brand strategist, transparency and honesty make my life a whole lot easier, offering me a greater opportunity to be effective. If a product has a legitimate purpose, a reason for being, we can tease it out, talk about it and celebrate it.
When people understand the ‘brand truth’, they can make the decision whether or not to buy the product.
Trying to be something you’re not has never really worked. Right now, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the sugar issue, but it will become clearer.
Brands must either decrease the sugar in their ingredient declaration or use smart branding and packaging to strengthen their propositions – and give consumers the opportunity to make the right choices.