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Consumer pressure forces response from food brands

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Plastic’s no longer fantastic and an even stronger focus on sustainability is piling on the pressure. Mobas MD Rob Bryant looks at the implications for food and drink brands – and finds time to raise a glass to gin.

Orange segments wrapped in plastic. David Attenborough’s heart-break at watching an albatross trying to feed its chick with sea plastic. Mega brands being shamed on social media for their non-recycle-friendly packaging. There’s no doubt that 2018 will see the search for sustainable food and drink packaging ramp up to the max.

The challenge is huge, but the potential rewards in terms of improved brand reputation and incremental sales are equally vast for those who get it right. The race is on. Laser markers are replacing plastic labels on fruit and veg in Scandinavia, and brand innovation directors are sending hasty meeting requests to the most creative minds in packaging design.

But – as ever the danger for brand – trust is being compromised. Recent cases of food fraud haven’t helped. A ‘food fraud report’ conducted by NFU Mutual in 2017 revealed that consumer confidence in the food industry is declining. In research conducted with more than 2,000 consumers, one-third (33%) said they were less trusting of products and retailers than they were five years ago.

Of course it’s not all bad news. The changing tastes, views and demands of consumers can deliver sector opportunities for brands that are ready and willing to catch the wave. I mean, don’t even get me started on gin!

As we all know, gin swept all before it during 2017. By last Christmas, supermarkets were hailing it as the new spirit messiah – on the back of a record-breaking year. UK gin sales have doubled in value in six years. The figure of more than 47m bottles sold in 2017 was partly driven by the growth and success of craft and premium distiller brands. I see it as a case of brand transformation of the industry, label by label.

So what does this mean for the wider spirits industry? According to The Future Laboratory’s Future Forecast, the new marketplace will usher in a stronger focus on terroir – to give spirits an even greater sense of place.

As we know, spirits such as tequila and whisky have to be produced in a certain region. But it is forecast that to compete in increasingly crowded markets, brands will be making even more of specific locations – and very particular local elements such as volcanic mineral content – to deliver sales-winning points of difference.

Personally, I find such trends both heartening and invigorating. Brand essence, personality and behaviour must be shaped around the demands of the audience. The times are changing and consumer needs are becoming increasingly sophisticated. If brands need to transform themselves to respond successfully, then so be it.

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