© Adrian Scottow/Flickr
BY JAMES HIRST
MANAGING DIRECTOR, RARE
Here and now, public perceptions of nutrition are good news for dairy brands. Data on British snacking habits, released by Nielsen last year, indicate that a protein revolution is on the go, spearheaded by meaty snacks like beef jerky but with meal replacement dairy products not far behind. One of the predicted top diets for 2016 heavily advocates fat-free dairy, and the belief that dairy’s good for you is still regularly reinforced by British media.
Regularly doesn’t mean consistently though, and major media outlets have also suggested links between dairy and cancer, and historical debates about fat content and whether adult dairy consumption is natural show no signs of going away.
Is the dairy market on the turn?
At first glance, no. Concerns about healthy eating in the young adult market (Nielsen’s recommended target demographic for snack producers) are driving growth in flavoured milk and yogurt drinks, and cheese continues its steady year-on-year growth.
However, the 25–34 age bracket is more concerned about fats than any other: 27% of households within this age bracket have at least one dieter on the premises, and 42% of young adult shoppers specifically look for fat content on product packaging. This high awareness makes the market volatile. All it takes is fat to replace sugar as public enemy number one, and dairy producers will be stuck where cereals are now: slashing content and frantically rebranding in the face of declining sales.
Despite the “war on sugar”, the key demographic for dairy snack sales are still around 8% more concerned about fat. All the ingredients for a turn against dairy are there. All that’s needed for dairy brands to feel the pinch is a shift in the priorities of the press.
How can dairy brands prepare for future accusations of unhealthiness?
Agility and adaptability are the only ways to deal with a sudden turn in the market. You’ll need a plan for your brand to survive future challenges, and the capacity to implement that plan as soon as the priority shift occurs.
Design-led innovation is a proven means to this particular end. Rather than changing the product, design-led innovation changes the meaning which consumers attach to it. For dairy producers, this means noticing that of the top diets for 2016, the ones actually recommended by health experts are about portion control rather than avoiding food groups altogether. The well-prepared producer can then introduce portion control to the brand through selling multipacks as “portion pots” or similar.
Such innovations aren’t merely for crisis management either; they’re an integral part of strategy in any active and changing market. For dairy brands, right now, this means riding the wave of current consumer resistance to sugar, reestablishing products like flavoured milk as the healthy alternative to the carbonated soft drink.
It also means observing the trend toward snacks as meal replacements, where consumers often combine multiple snack products. In this case, building implied relationships between products is an option. Belvita biscuits emphasise that they’re part of a healthy breakfast and should therefore be partnered with a plain dairy product.
That plain dairy product could be reaching back the other way, to the low-sugar, low-gluten end of the cereal market – and in the coming year, we think it should be.
Future-proof your brand
There’s a possibility of dark skies ahead for dairy brands, and protecting your brand’s value is going to be crucial. Other food brands have weathered the storms in their sector by delivering strategic, design-led innovation.
For instance, Kellogg’s built a brand identity that goes beyond the plain cereals, reintroducing everything else that their products contain and creating a consumer relationship based on variety and balance. When rebranding Weight Watchers, Heinz focused on the positive side of dieting, tackling the relationship between “diet” and “bland” with a focus on richness and flavour.
The products themselves haven’t changed – only the meaning consumers attach to them, and a design-led solution is a proven means to this particular end.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020