Chris Genasi is a senior director in APCO Worldwide’s London office with more than 20 years experience in public relations consulting.
A borough in London where life expectancy is nine years lower than the national average due to unhealthy diets and lack of exercise has become the first in the United Kingdom to restrict the number of local takeaway outlets.
The move by officials at the London Borough of Haringey follows announcements by the UK national government to set a minimum price for a unit of alcohol. It is hoped this will prevent retailers from selling cheap alcohol and will reduce the health and social impacts that excessive drinking places on the public purse.
With the state finally addressing demand for food and drink which is seen as deleterious to our health, surely it is only a matter of time before attention turns to the supply side of the equation.
Food and drink manufacturers face new types of reputation risk in new product development or when running advertising and promotional campaigns which risk being seen to be encouraging overconsumption.
Large-pack sizes for confectionery have already attracted unwelcome attention, along with high-calorific foods presented as “healthy,” overt advertising to children, and heavy discounting of some categories.
Many food and drinks firms are taking positive action, though. Removing or reducing hydrogenated fats, salt, sugar and levels of alcohol by volume and applying transparent nutritional labelling are smart moves to stave off regulation. This has been noted by the government which continues to trust food manufacturers and restaurant chains to moderate their own recipes, rather than imposing legislation to limit fat content, sugar levels and so on.
The industry has to be ever-vigilant for reputation torpedoes which can come from so many directions –including overseas subsidiaries, distributors, advertising agencies and miscreant sponsored sportspeople and brand ambassadors.
Keeping all communication joined up and thinking “health first” must be the way forward for the best chance of preserving the status quo and the sector’s current licence to operate.