Dearest Australian Big Sugar, the days of uncritical acceptance of sugar as just another food are behind us. As you know, the science has made it clear for some time that it is a lethal and addictive element of the food supply.
Unfortunately, that knowledge appears to be filtering into the consumer domain. We, here in the United States, are now repeatedly fending off claims that we are causing all manner of damage. Even worse, the feds are now talking about special taxes against us and otherwise interfering with our right to sell whatever we damn well like to whoever we damn well please.
We’ve learnt a thing or two about how to distract consumers worried about sugar. So here are some tried and true strategies you can use to ensure your customers remain docile and compliant.
Everything in moderation. As market awareness about the danger develops, you should respond, that of course you are aware that excessive consumption of sugar is not good, but that foods such as yours should be consumed in moderation.
It’s a tactic that worked exceedingly well for Big Tobacco for many years. In the 1960s they successfully put a message about that it was fine to smoke in moderation (can you believe they got away with that?). Eventually this message runs out of steam, but Big Tobacco got a solid 30 years out of it, so it should be good for a while for us.
Point out that your product is natural. In the US, we emphasise that our sugar comes from natural corn. You could do the same with sugar or if the punters are already sceptical of cane sugar, you could start using phrases such as “made with real fruit” instead. We know it’s all the same, but it seems to reassure the public and throw them off the scent (for a while at least).
Produce meaningless front-of-pack labels. If you are a beverage manufacturer, proudly display the number of calories per serving. Of course, the damage being done by sugar has nothing to do with calorie content, but it looks like you care about your customer’s health. You can also be cute with the number of servings in a package. Consumers will assume they are holding one serving in their mitts, when in fact there are two (or more).
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If you’re a cereal manufacturer, produce a dizzying array of numbers that compare the number of grams of up to 12 ingredients (in a serve slightly larger than an espresso glass) to the hypothetical requirements of an adult male. Make sure you point out meaningless information about the high sugar product on the front of the pack. Things such as high in “Fibre” or “Low Fat” seem to work well here.
And, of course, fiercely lobby against the introduction of any traffic-light nutrition labelling system. Those systems would stop people buying just about everything we sell. You can say you are already providing more than enough information.
Produce a light version. Obviously we don’t mean use less sugar. We all know that would mean our products wouldn’t sell. No, the way to go is to produce a smaller container (beverage) or package (confectionery). This has numerous benefits apart from the obvious opportunity for profit. You can pitch “built-in portion control” as part of a “healthy lifestyle”. Clearly you don’t want consumers to reduce their consumption, so remember to sell the smaller cans in eight packs rather than six packs.
Get the experts onside. Nutritionists are more than happy to line up to help us spread the messages about moderation and how all that really matters is the number of calories. Naturally, they won’t do this for free, so be ready to sponsor some conferences and even employ some of them. Obviously it would be even better to get some doctors on board, but they are paid a bit more than nutritionists, so be prepared to part with some serious money for that one.
We very much hope it doesn’t come to this in Australia, but as a last-ditch effort, you might have to set up some outfits such as the Center for Consumer Freedom or Americans Against Food Taxes. They will help make your lobbying look independent.
If you are forced to do it, you could model your version on the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation (sponsored by Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonald’s, etc). They have come in very handy in the past to independently remind people that there is “no such thing as a bad food or beverage”.
Good Luck and remember it ain’t over until the fat lady sings (or dies).
Warning: there is a possibility that this letter was not written by Big Sugar, your mileage may vary, product may not work as advertised, read the PDS in the accompanying brochure, caveat emptor, etc, etc.