Neil Davidson, managing director of HeyHuman, advises bakers to take proactive marketing steps in case of increased regulation of ‘unhealthy’ foods

For products with a high sugar content, the future could be anything but sweet. Since the chancellor announced the introduction of the sugar tax on soft drinks, the direction of travel has been clear, with a real possibility of greater regulation.

Around the world, regulators are tightening the screw when it comes to the marketing of products that are deemed ‘unhealthy’. Baked goods could be in the next batch of products to catch the regulators’ beady eye. The debate is now less about ‘will it happen?’ than ‘how quickly will it happen?’

Many brands seem to be in denial, but there is a surprising amount you can do today  to strengthen your brand and the effectiveness of your marketing ahead of regulation.

When Tesco announced it would no longer sell children’s lunchbox drinks with added sugar, Ribena and others were quick to slot no-added-sugar variants into the gaps in the shelves. Reformulation has also been a strategy for other brands.

If advertising and promotion are banned, brands need to be more proactive in seeking other opportunities. For bakery brands to avoid a doomsday scenario, they need to adopt similar strategies that initially worked for tobacco and alcohol brands globally. Businesses such as Diageo have invested in understanding what brand assets people connect with, not just the logo. They have focused on those and changed their communication strategies to enable more effective high-reach, low-frequency campaigns that are effective now and protect against future advertising restrictions.

Trade relationships will become even more important, so now is the time to demonstrate your commitment to the sector. In-store activity to drive footfall for retailers, and investing in data, can prove your brand’s usefulness. 

When it comes to new product development, brands need to invest now. Products need at least three years to become embedded in the brand portfolio. They should also consider how products are positioned. Gü puddings brought new dynamism to desserts with a focus on adult indulgences.

Investing ahead of potential marketing regulations acts as an insurance policy that almost always pays off. It allows you to undertake a brand, portfolio and marketing communications health check and examine potential scenarios, as well as your response. Progressive brands should do this anyway, but the present environment gives it added impetus.