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Social Marketing in Food Labelling
Over the past few decades, there has been a rising concern for healthy living and increasing calls for health consciousness in food consumption. With rising income and the middle class, the purchasing power of consumers has increased. Increased food consumption leads to health risks such as obesity, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. By 2008, 66% of men and 57% of women were overweight and obese (FAO, 2010). For this reason, several government institutions, non-governmental organisations, and profit-making organisations have joined the debate on healthy food consumption. The National Health Service and the British Nutrition Foundation of the UK have responded to the rising levels of obesity and other health issues by providing nutritional information, education, and recommendations (British Nutrition Foundation, 2015). Multinational corporations have also joined the new trend with social marketing initiatives that influence consumer behaviour positively. This essay will use social marketing and consumer behaviour theories to analyse the diet and food labelling recommendations of the UK. It will begin with an explanation of the current dietary recommendations of the UK, level of compliance, barriers to healthier diet, and the relevance of social marketing in addressing healthy eating. The next section will be to apply relevant theories and empirical studies in context of healthy eating, use of food labels, and consumer behaviour of food choices.
The dietary recommendations of the United Kingdom are provided in various documentations and regulations. For instance, dietary guidelines were developed since 1994 to provide tips for eating well and improving health and nutrition in the United Kingdom. The national food guides were first known as the Balance of Good Health in 1994, but they have since then been updated two times. First, they were updated in 2007 and referred to as ‘the Eatwell Plate’. The latest version of the guidelines is called ‘Eatwell guide’, last updated in 2016 (FAO, 2016). The guide has been accepted across government departments in England and Scotland. They have been adopted by the Food Standards of Scotland and the Food Standards Agency in Scotland.
The Eatwell Guide provides a food guide provides information on how the different groups of food contribute to the nutritious diet of the people (FAO, 2016). This guide provides five categories of food that are recommended for a nutritious diet and a healthy living, and how each of these categories should be balanced to promote a balanced healthy diet. First, the document recommends that people should eat at least five portions different fruits and vegetables every day (FAO, 2016). The guide also recommends meals based on bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and other carbohydrates to increase the amount of starch in the body. The UK dietary guidelines also encourage the intake of low fat and low sugar dairy products or dairy alternatives (Garrett, 2017). Other recommended food in the diet include: beans, pulses, meat, fish and eggs. Unsaturated oils and 6-8 glasses of fluid are also recommended. Lastly, the guidelines suggest that fat, salt and sugar should be consumed less often and in small quantities.
These recommendations are provided based on evidence from research, which shows that fat has negative effects on people’s health. The evidence from a paper published by FAO in 2010, the replacement of saturated fatty acids with unsaturated fatty acids leads to the reduction of cholesterol concentration in the body (FAO, 2010). This evidence was cross-examined by the European Food Safety Authority and found that there is a strong positive relationship between saturated fatty acids and cholesterol concentration in the body. The high levels of cholesterol concentration in the body prevents effective blood flows (British Nutrition Foundation, n.d.). Based on these findings, the UK and international organisations have concluded that fatty acids may cause cardiovascular risks and diseases. Therefore, the public are educated and advised to take some types of food with low fat content as suggested in the Eatwell Guide.
To influence consumer choice positively, some food labelling guidelines have also been provided to encourage food manufacturers and distributers to disclose information about the content of the food they sale. Such information helps consumers to choose products with recommended mixtures of food types and chemical content. A new European regulation on food information was implemented in 2011, and the British Nutrition Foundation provides a summary of UK approach to meet those requirements. Since 2016, the UK Department of Health has made food labelling at the back of pack compulsory for pre-packed food (Food Standards Agency, 2016). The front of pack remains voluntary, but many companies disclose the labels in front to create a good image for health-conscious consumers.
On the food labels, the UK regulations recommend the following information to be included: name of food, volume or weight, how to prepare, manufacturer’s details, expiry date, ingredients, and storage conditions. This information is compulsory by law, but other information such as suggestions of serving portions. However, loose food are exempted from these labelling requirements in the UK (Department of Health, 2013). The manufacturers must disclose information about the presence of Genetically Modified ingredients in their food. The ingredients’ list should state the amount of fat, sugar, salt, etc. This information should be accurate, so manufacturers are required to carry out thorough tests to establish the accurate amount of each ingredient.
Through these regulatory efforts, many organisations have complied by providing standardised and consistent labels with relevant information. Most organisations do this for compliance purposes, but some of them use the labelling as a marketing strategy to improve their image and target the health-conscious segment of the market, which is rising steadily in the UK. Some companies such as Tesco provide front of pack labels with accurate information to reflect the correct amount of ingredients. Tesco takes advantage of the health-conscious consumers to market products with low fat contents, including fruits and vegetables across various stores across the UK and the rest of the world.
Consumers often face various challenges when making choices regarding eating a healthy diet due to challenges of food choices. While the government provides guidelines on the best combination of foods to take to achieve a good health, buying such combinations may be challenging as some manufacturers and distributors may provide wrong information on the labels (Azman and Sahak, 2014). Lack of information may limit consumer choices. Consumers may also make wrong choices due to misleading advertising and marketing initiatives of companies that are trying to convince customers to buy their products in all possible ways (Narayan, 2013).
Food labelling is an important element of social marketing because it reduces the information gap between the manufacturer and the consumer. Social marketing helps addressing social issues in the society. Organisations engage in social marketing to improve the health and diet of consumers. A consistent framework on front-of-pack labels help consumers to make informed food choices; hence helping in improving health and safeguarding the population against risks such as heart diseases, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure (FSA, 2010). The regulations on food labelling is devolved to the Devolved Administrations and the Food Standards Agency. Therefore, it was necessary to standardise these provisions to help the Department of Health to implement consistent regulations on all manufacturers across the United Kingdom (Department of Health, 2013). This approach integrates social policy with marketing strategy to improve consumer welfare through informed decision making, while at the same time increasing competitive advantage and opportunities for profitability.
The theory and empirical studies on consumer behaviour, social marketing and food dietary food choices show that social marketing has a big role to play in influencing consumer choice and use of food labels. Based on the theory of consumer behaviour, social marketing influences the consumption decisions of consumers; hence helping them to exhibit good consumption behaviours and patterns that promote healthy living (French and Gordon, 2015). It is important to consider the psychology of consumers to ensure that marketing strategies meet the consumer needs and attitudes in terms of thinking, feelings and interests. In this era of increased connectivity and interactions through the mass media and digital media, people are becoming more informed about health lifestyles. As a result, many people have become more health-conscious, and make their food choices based on the health and diet effects of the various types or brands of food.
According to D’Souza (2011), limitations in consumer knowledge and information processing abilities may influence consumption behaviours and decisions. In this regard, social marketing approaches including education and publicities provide information to consumers to make decision on healthy living. Understanding consumer psychology also helps marketers to determine the motivation and strategies used by consumers in choosing different types of products (French and Gordon, 2015). Social marketing allows organisations to identify the drivers of consumer behaviour to develop appropriate initiatives that will improve the comprehension and use of food labels. Kotler and Lee (2008), social marketing communications entail persuasive messages that inspire audience action. In this regard, marketers may develop persuasive communications to educate consumers about the understanding and use of food labels.
In the traditionalist social marketing school of thought, marketers may stick to their commercial marketing techniques while applying them on social issues. According to the social marketing theory from a traditionalist perspective, both social and commercial marketing activities focus on customer orientation (Glanz et al, 2002). In this case, the business offers products and services that appeal to the target audience. The provision of food labels appeals to customers in this era of increased consciousness of healthy living. Therefore, companies should include food labels in their marketing strategies, including messages that create awareness about the importance of using labels and how to use them to choose products that meet their needs.
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The exchange theory of social marketing suggests that the marketing initiatives must create value proposition so that consumers can perceive greater benefits than costs in the purchase of a product or service (Lobstein and Davies, 2009). In this regard, social marketers may convince consumers that reading labels enables them to choose products that improve their health. They should also educate people about the benefits over costs of healthy food. Marketers should also conduct a thorough research to understand specific needs, desires and attitudes of consumers to develop the right social marketing messages to convince consumers of food products to use labels and eat healthy diet.
Various behavioural theories are also relevant in promoting effective social marketing in food decisions and healthy lifestyles of consumers. Gordon et al (2006) suggest that social marketing offers an important framework of improving health by influencing consumer behaviour. The behaviour theory helps marketers to understand why consumers behave the way they do; hence they can develop the right marketing strategies that will drive the right consumer behaviour, including increased appreciation and use of food labels (Tanner-Smith and Brown, 2010). Social marketers use behavioural theories to understand specific aspects of a consumer’s decision making that may trigger change.
The Health Belief Model can be used to improve people’s perceptions of food labels and improve consumers’ use of food labels to improve their health and diet. According to the model, people are hesitant to participate in health programs due to perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived benefits, and perceived barriers (Rosenstock, 1974). In this regard, the purpose of social marketers is to minimise the perceived threat of health conditions (Sapp & Jensen, 1998). To achieve this, social marketers should provide advertising and marketing messages that improve consumers’ perception of reduced susceptibility, severity and barriers; and increased benefits of understanding and using food labels to achieve healthy diet.
Based on this theory, the marketers should carry out a research to understand the issues that make customers to increase their perception of threats (Rosenstock, 1974). Social marketers of food products should understand the issues affecting obese people, and the consumer needs for healthy living, so that they can develop appropriate and persuasive messages that will increase consumers’ perception of benefits and reduce the perceptions of susceptibility and severity of consuming certain products (Sapp & Weng, 2007). For example, the marketers may provide an educative brochure with information about the benefits of organic food, and the importance of using labels to identify organic and less fatty food.
James et al (2012) also suggest that the Health Benefits Model help social marketers to encourage the perceived benefits of losing weight through healthy diet, including reduced health risks such as cardiovascular diseases. The model may also be used to identify the motivators of engaging in healthy diet and using food labels, such as improved health outcomes. James et al (2012) postulate that social marketers use Health Benefits Model to promote self-efficacy methods such as using labels to overcome frustrating historical problems of dieting. Nonetheless, the theory encourages culturally appropriate weight-loss and healthy dieting messages and programs for susceptible populations.
In conclusion, social marketing is an important approach in achieving the social goal of achieving improved health as well as the economic benefits of revenues and profits. Healthy diet and food labelling are considered as important ways of achieving healthy living. In the current world where health consciousness is increasing, social marketing may help in educating and encouraging people to use food labels as a way of achieving healthy lifestyles and reducing the health risks associated with unhealthy food such as fats, sugar and salt. The traditional social marketing models such as exchange theories suggest that social marketing help in increasing the value proposition, and increase consumers’ perception of the benefits of healthy diet and labels; hence increasing their use of labels. Furthermore, Health Belief Model may be used in social marketing to reduce consumers’ perception of severity, barriers, and susceptibility of health risks; and increase their perception of health benefits of healthy diet and the use of labels.
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