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Woke food labelling

A new era in ‘woke’ food labelling and packaging

We aren’t living in stable times; the world is changing, and what’s more, our priorities as consumers are changing. How will these different priorities impact on food packaging and labelling?

As a copywriter, there are few better ways to speak directly to your target audience than grabbing their attention from the supermarket shelf and making their mouths water.

I know from my own professional experience how important the labelling, taglines and imagery are on packaging when I’ve worked with food start-ups. Getting heard above the noise of other products is crucial, and it’s difficult.

In fact, it’s impossible unless you and your product really know what you’re doing.

We aren’t living in stable times; the world is changing, and what’s more, our priorities as consumers are changing. Gone are the days when a food shopper was usually a female looking for cheap and satisfying stuff for the family. Now consumers are of all genders, ages and demographics, and they have very different priorities.

Priority #1 – Sustainability

First, and perhaps most importantly for brands, is the issue of sustainability. Those of us who take an interest in this type of thing have noticed the increasing prevalence of labels such as “no palm oil” or even “500g carbon footprint” on side or front-of-pack messaging.

Often this comes before any flavour or quality claims. Sure, it may taste good, but if animals had to die or forests were destroyed to make it, be aware it may leave a nasty taste in your customers’ mouths.

Packaging is shrinking, thanks mainly to the anti-plastic movement, and countries are failing repeatedly to hit their recycling targets. This has created a double challenge for food producers and their marketeers; the space available to sell the sustainability benefits of their product is getting smaller, or even vanishing, because packaging is mostly unsustainable.

Space is more at a premium than ever before, and you have less space to fit in your words and graphics. It’s the old adage that you have to do more with less.

“Consider this: As a copywriter, am I trying to sell the product or its ethos? The taste of it, or the feeling it gives us inside when we buy sustainable and healthy products? Of course, it’s a mixture of all of these, but I would argue that our focus has moved much more in favour of an ethos or a feeling rather than quality or value.”

Priority #2 – Depackaging

The situation for marketers gets worse when we look at foods now sold loose in store. At the moment, at least in my neck of the woods, these tend to be mainly vegetables, pulses and rice, which have not traditionally been heavily branded.

But we’re seeing more foodstuffs which would usually use branded packaging sold loose and this will most certainly continue apace.

What we have is a shift in the relationship between product and consumer; you often don’t pick up a packet — you bring your own reusable container and fill it up.

Therefore, you base your decision less on branding and more on past experience of the product — or simply on the fact that this product produces no packaging at all — so quality or taste is bumped down your list of priorities. 

However, I have spotted more and more people really engaging with those products which are still traditionally packaged — lifting their glasses to read small print about Fairtrade supply chains; scanning QR codes with their phones to learn about avoiding palm oil; and checking the traffic light labels in the UK (sugar, fat and salt are labelled red for high, amber for medium and green for low).

It’s a complex label we see now on our ready meal dinner — balancing health, responsibility, green credentials, brand history, quality and value.

Social media has a huge role here. Recently I called out a leading supermarket that had put, directly under the customer info heading “Great for all of us,” the words “This bag is currently not recyclable.” 

You tweet that image, with the appropriate Twitter handles, and you can sit back and wait for the tsunami of tuts from consumers and meek promises to do better from the retailer. Someone had taken their eye off the pan there.

Likewise, customers have zero tolerance for brands who try to skew the data or present it in a better light than it really deserves….

FoodDive.com: Read the full article, authored by Jonathan Finch, a British copywriter and blogger.

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