Mixed Messages – The Importance of Clear Messaging in Healthy Snacking
When we founded Emily Crisps in 2014, it was always our intention to create a snack brand that would naturally fit in the ‘better for you’ or ‘healthy eating’ category. Steadily increasing market growth in the healthy-ingredient category certainly played a factor in that decision, (and with global sales predicted to rise to $25.4 billion in 2020, a CAGR between 2016 and 2020 of 5.7% it’s hard to argue with the figures), but we felt, almost more importantly than that there was a real opportunity to develop a brand that answered consumer need and really engaged with their concerns about nutrition.
What we’ve learned, however, just over the short time we’ve been operating, is that the ‘healthy snacking’ category is not ‘one size fits all’. Fragmentation and the complexity of consumer’s beliefs and ideas about food and health are certainly creating fantastic opportunities for brands, but also, potentially, might they also be guilty of promoting massively confusing messages for consumers?
When you consider the variety of criteria consumers report they consider when choosing a healthier snack it’s easy to see how difficult it is to find consistency and therefore how challenging it is for brands working in this environment to refine their key messages accordingly.
According to a recent report, ‘all-natural’ ingredients, those without artificial colours and flavours remain the highest rated health attributes among the 27 that respondents were asked to judge. In addition, consumers are looking for functional foods that can either reduce their risk of illness and/or actively promote better health – products that contain fibre, for example, or food that’s high in whole grain or fortified with calcium, vitamins or minerals.
Consumers with more specific nutritional needs are looking for products featuring low cholesterol, salt, sugar or fat. The ‘free from’ phenomenon has truly taken hold in the UK with sales up 13% on last year, reaching £531 million. 33% of the UK population have bought or eaten ‘free-from’ food – whether that’s gluten-free products, dairy substitutes, wheat or lactose-free.
Other consumers are looking for help in managing their weight – food that’s high in protein to help with satiety and sustained energy. Products that are low in calories or which are portion controlled have long been accepted as part of a ‘better for you’ approach to snacking.
And what happens when accepted wisdom suddenly changes? When the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration proposed that ‘eating fat does not make you fat’ and that eating a diet rich in full-fat dairy like cheese, butter and yoghurt could, in fact actually lower the risk of obesity you could practically hear the frustration and bewilderment right across the UK. Or when the latest ‘superfood’ is announced and then almost immediately debunked as no such thing. Or when it’s hard to understand what amount of fruit and vegetables actually constitutes 5 portions per day. None of this helps when trying to make positive choices when it comes to snacking.
Something else we have learned from our own experience is that being at different life stages will also directly affect the choices consumers make when purchasing a ‘better for you’ snack. Younger people tell us that they eat our products when they need a boost to their energy levels and enjoy the ‘clean’ nature of our ingredients while older customers often tell us that they are looking for something they can enjoy as a treat while helping manage their weight.
Although ‘health’ is absolutely the foundation of all that is happening in food and ‘healthy snacking’ is right at the forefront of that, with this extraordinary proliferation of messaging, (and that’s without factoring in the other key elements – great taste and convenience – that remain central to making a purchase decision) the potential for confusion is obvious. Information is all too often unsubstantiated by fact or data and brands like ours have to lead the way in helping consumers gain confidence in their choices by being honest, clear and consistent.
At Emily Crisps we’re relatively fortunate in that our products contains no added sugars, no additives or preservatives. It only contains a few ingredients and those we have are all entirely natural. And yet we still have to think extremely hard about which messages to talk about, which will really resonate with consumers. It’s a continual process and it’s hard to not just respond to the latest fad or fancy. ‘Truthiness’ – whereby something feels as though it might be true even when there’s little or no evidence that that’s the case – is just as prevalent in food as it is in politics these days. We’ve always been passionate about cultivating a consistent message about maintaining a healthy relationship with what we’re all eating. Generally speaking, we know people scrutinise the backs of packs, avidly reading through lists of ingredients, avoiding those products that don’t fit into their definition of what is natural and wholesome while buying those which do. Since those terms can be somewhat vague, contradictory or mired in befuddlement, it’s absolutely our responsibility, therefore to understand what the majority of our target audience believes they mean and communicate that in the most straightforward way possible.
By Emily Wong, Co-Founder, Emily Fruit Crisps