Be straight about sugar.

14 October 2020

Stop the sweet turning sour with our tips on handling one of the trickiest interview questions for a food and drink brand.

Sugar is a subject that is never too far from daily headlines, especially considering our health as a nation – a recent report found 67% of men and 60% of women in the UK are overweight or obese(1).

As a result, food and drink brands are often in the media spotlight – whether the dailies are calling out a product with ‘healthier’ claims, or running a shock story about how the sugar content of a certain fast food chain’s bread roll is closer to that of a cake.

Within its widely reported Sugar Reduction statement, Public Health England (PHE) last week announced that many food categories had ‘made little or no progress’ in reaching the overall target of 20% reduction by 2020.

In light of this, it’s likely PHE and other industry bodies will increase pressure on the government to push through the controversial sugar tax legislation, or lobby for further restrictions like July’s TV watershed for advertising HFSS food and drinks – an upshot of Covid-19 and the extra risk it poses for the overweight.

If you are a spokesperson for a food or drink brand, it is now more crucial than ever that you feel confident handling questions around sugar and nutrition – and that’s where your PR team comes in.

Because, let’s be honest, there is nothing worse than being ill-prepared for a curve ball. Knowing how to respond, and what to talk about, can be the difference between a positive news story and a damaging headline. Here are some tips.

  • Preparation
  • Stay calm
  • Be upfront and honest

Firstly, arm yourself with the latest relevant articles, particularly from the last 24 hours, ahead of any interview. Journalists are often looking for a timely ‘hook’ or additional commentary to build on a relevant story.

Take time to read your briefing notes – your PR will have made sure you have everything you need – from your CSR plans, the action you’re taking on sugar or rationale for keeping your product recipes as they are, to reactive statements signed off by your senior team and legal department.

A measured approach to interviews can prevent you being thrown by potentially negative queries on sugar. Pause ahead of answering, acknowledge the question and then reiterate your view and key message, for example: “That’s a really good point, although (insert key message)”.

There’s no point in circumventing a curveball – journalists are trained to get answers. Be as transparent as you can (in line with those reactive statements we mentioned).

Looking at reducing sugar but not there yet? Be honest that a recipe renovation is something you’re working towards – but it is crucial you get it right to ensure quality isn’t compromised.

If your brand is in the treating or indulgent space and sugar reduction isn’t an option, talk openly about your taste-first philosophy or mission to offer people choice.

After all, demand for delicious moments is booming, especially during lockdown when we looked for a little escapism. This was clear in the exponential rise in home baking and sales of related ingredients during the summer(2).

We also know that shoppers who seek out taste as a primary purchase driver often spend more. As a result, they are not willing to sacrifice on quality, and they want the additional calories to be worth it. Not only that, as more treating occasions have now moved in home, people are looking for products that can help them recreate the feeling of dining out. This is all rationale for keeping your indulgent recipe as is, but of course marketing your products responsibly.

Want to know more? If you need PR support or media training, we can help. Get in touch today at hello@mercieca.co.uk

(1) Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England (2020)
(2) Kantar shopper satisfaction April 2020

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