Weetabix, Eatlean and SMASH explain why the HFSS crackdown is a big opportunity

F&B brands that set out on a journey to make their products healthier can enjoy all sorts of benefits, say brand leaders.

Tough new legislation around HFSS food and drink might seem like a blow to the industry but, according to brands like Weetabix and Eatlean, it’s actually a not-to-be-missed opportunity. 

The brands were speaking at a webinar hosted by Attest and The Grocer, discussing the proposals outlined in the UK government’s National Food Strategy. While these include restrictions on being able to advertise products deemed unhealthy and might require manufacturers to reformulate their products to reduce salt and sugar, these brands believe there are many positives to be had. 

Barrie Saxby, Business Unit Director at Eatlean said the crackdown represents an opportunity for manufacturers to engage with retailers and get better in-store promotion – especially for brands working to bring healthier products to market. 

“Some retailers are positively discriminating around feature space, to make sure that 10% of brands on that end are healthier or plant-based, to support brands in getting that message out there. I think it’s an opportunity for suppliers of any size – particularly smaller suppliers – to engage with retailers about the journey they’re about to go on and try to use that to solicit additional support.”

Some retailers are positively discriminating around feature space for healthier or plant-based brands.

Barrie Saxby, Eatlean

Mark Perry, Head of Category and In-Store at Weetabix, agrees that the new proposals are opening up conversations between brands and retailers. Our own research found that British consumers think it’s supermarkets, not manufacturers, who have the most responsibility for tackling obesity, so these are conversations retailers need to have.

“Retailers very much realise it’s going to be a huge part of their planning for the next 18/24 months and we’ve spent quite a lot of time looking at that with them,” he says. 

“In terms of reformulation, most of our products are on the right side of the line. So what we can spend our time doing is working with our retail customers to upskill them a little on legislation, what that could mean for the cereal category, what they can promote, what it might mean for their online sites, all of that kind of stuff. And we can do it in a really confident way because we know we can continue to invest in the category and support the plans that we’re taking to them.”

Education is key

For brands to thrive in this new environment, finding ways to educate both consumers and retailers about their products will be key.

“There’s a broader piece about engagement; we need to be talking to people about what these products do and why they are right for people,” notes Saxby. 

“The first thing we get asked a lot is, ‘well, if you’ve got a product that’s 90% lower in fat than standard cheese, what have you done to it? Are there nasties in it?’ And actually, no, our ingredient list is milk with some starter cultures and a pinch of salt, that’s it. I think as an industry we’ve got to make sure we manage those misconceptions.”

You’d be surprised how many buyers are not actually clear what they have got at their disposal in their category already.

Mark Perry, Weetabix

Weetabix’s Perry adds that engaging with retailers on the grounds of product education could help them to remember ‘forgotten’ suppliers. 

“Education is really important,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many buyers and buying teams are maybe not actually clear what they have got at their disposal in their category already and the benefits of those. 

“It can be really difficult to get feature for products that are startup or are smaller. But this legislation and the focus on health is going to mean that retailers are going to have to take a slightly different approach to how they’re allocating feature space, how they’re backing startup brands and how they’re backing healthy brands that they’ve already got in their category. It might mean rediscovering some of them.” 

The digital shop window

Despite its drawbacks, The National Food Strategy comes at a good time because it follows the shift to online grocery shopping seen during the pandemic. This means brands and retailers have increased opportunities – and much more space – to engage with consumers.  

Weetabix saw online sales grow from 10% to 30% since the start of the pandemic, while Eatlean witnessed 300% growth in their ecommerce business.

Online is just an enormous opportunity to put products in front of people that they wouldn’t normally see

Mark Perry, Weetabix

“Creating clear health navigation and signage and segmentation online is a million times easier online than it is in store,” says Perry. 

“So suddenly you’ve got this opportunity to be able to have shoppers on the website being able to filter by high fibre or wholewheat, or wholegrain or added protein or reduced sugar.  Online is just an enormous opportunity to help people make better, more informed decisions and put products in front of them that they wouldn’t normally see and create those basket opportunities.” 

Eatlean’s Saxby adds that demand from consumers for greater transparency around products could also be met much more easily online. 

“People want not just more detail around what’s in the product but also the process that goes into making it. To get that on a point of sale fixture is pretty tricky when you’ve limited space. But if we’re talking about retailer websites or ecommerce websites, you’ve got a whole platform there to bring it to life.” 

The carrot not the stick

The challenge of getting consumers to adopt healthier products will ultimately be won by incentivising them to do so (not by forcing them). This includes motivating people about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Weetabix cite their partnership with the FA as a great example; providing a seamless link between a healthy start to the day and activity. 

Meanwhile, SMASH – another brand speaking at the event – are incentivising young people with discounts on healthy food and drink from 80 brand partners. They’re working with social media influencers to promote the deals, and it’s a concept that’s really working. 

We need to ensure that healthier products are seen as aspirational.

Andie Allgood, SMASH

Angie Allgood, Chief Marketing Officer, SMASH said: “We’re working with money saving influencers who mainly focus on fast food deals and then we’re sprinkling in our discounts on healthier food and we’ve seen a significant increase in downloads of the app when they post about us. So we can see that desire is there if we can just increase the amount of messages from influencers that young people trust.”

Our own data shows that 86% of Brits think offers and promotions on healthy food would change their purchasing behaviour. SMASH now hope to accumulate a body of data that can prove that financial incentives motivate behaviour – something they plan to use to help influence reforms in the VAT system.  

Beyond making healthier food more affordable, Allgood says it’s all about changing the way these products are viewed, especially among younger people.

“We really need to go to the platforms where these young people are, like TikTok, Twitch, YouTube and ensure that our messaging around healthy eating isn’t what it has been in the past where healthier products haven’t been seen as aspirational. We need to change the narrative.”

One way F&B brands can engage with consumers on the topic of healthy eating is by tapping into our love of cooking. The number of people dedicating time to cooking grew massively during lockdown and it seems it’s a habit that’s stuck. Our research finds that nearly 60% of Brits cook daily/most days, and a further 24% do it a few days a week. 

Says Allgood: “There are loads of TikTokers and Instagrammers that are making scratch cooking more entertaining and easy, and many focus on healthy dishes that are quick and easy to whip up.”

Brands that work with such influencers will be able to show how their products can be used in scratch cooking and marry the all-important factors of taste, health, convenience and affordability.  

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Bel Booker

Senior Content Writer 

Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 100m global consumers. She also likes cake.

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