Marketing communication for innovatively processed food

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Transparency about innovative food processing is a powerful tool in marketing communication strategy. But when does it work the best and how can it attract consumers?

Written by Themis Altintzoglou, senior scientist, Nofima

Trust in openness

Marketing communication is most powerful when it is built on optimal food product properties. When high quality and desirable product properties are in place, the product can speak for itself. But since products cannot speak, transparency about the product and the way it is produced are key to attracting consumers.

This attraction is a result of consumers approaching the product with trust. This allows the consumers to appreciate the product properties and make their own evaluation of it, based on what they expect the product to be. Who would not like to make informed decisions when it comes to food?

This is also exactly the part where the importance of marketing communication and product characteristics become the most relevant, since the expectations consumers make should be met by an experience and appreciation of the product when they open, prepare, and consume it.

Modern markets for primal minds

Food as a product should be visible. There is a lot of information one can provide on food packaging, yet the most important piece is the piece of food itself.

The food market has seen various waves and approaches concerning how to package products: plastic wrapping, cardboard boxes, skin packs, handy trays, etc. Some allow the food item to be fully seen, some through a window, some only show a picture of it or even just a picture of a dish prepared using it.

Consumers prefer to know that information is available, but not to have it all cluttered on the packaging. This has led to various solutions, such as adding the information on the back of the package and more recently, using QR codes that link the product to information online. All done as an effort to satisfy our need to see what we buy and plan to eat.

Eating and drinking is a daily activity that is rather important, yet very basic as a need. IT also has strong links without a protective brain, which needs to make sure that we get all the necessary ingredients while staying away from poison. This process is so deeply installed into our brain that it has little to do with processing text and a lot to do with processing the actual food itself. This is the reason why we still get the best expectations about our food when we can see and maybe even touch and smell the products we buy, e.g., at a fish counter or at an open market.

Can we tell everything?

Consumers can also be sceptical about information on food products, however. Being transparent is positive, but by doing that, some information that is new to consumers can cause scepticism.

As author H.P. Lovecraft said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”.

When we combine this idea with the idea of food being ingested, our protective mind’s hints about being careful are more than obvious. Consumers tend to like food products that they can see, but also those they can see are natural. Food products should be pure and untouched. So, when food processing takes place, it takes a long period of exposure for consumers to familiarise and accept it.

An example of processing that still generates scepticism is freezing, even though it is common. When products are sold thawed, scepticism arises again. Innovative processing technologies such as high pressure, pulsed electric fields and UV light are therefore facing a challenge when it comes to communication and acceptance.

What can we tell?

The clue with overcoming this communication challenge appears to be simple. Various technologies apparently cause various levels of consumer scepticism. Some sound scary, some less scary, some sound OK. But one thing they all have in common is that they are used for a good reason.

Food producers go to great lengths to guarantee optimal product quality that lasts for days, without generating food and money waste, both for them and the consumers. And it is exactly that which can support marketing communication regarding technologies used during food processing.

What is used, or how, is not relevant for consumers. What matters to them is how it influences them.

Benefits from using such technologies are thus the key to such communication. What does the use of innovative processing technologies do to consumers’ daily life? How could it influence their health? Can they keep the products longer? Will they taste the same as when they were fresh?

How to decide what to tell?

Deciding what information to use in food marketing is a tricky process. Companies often rely on the confidence of executives, leading competitors, or key actors in their marketing department.

All three approaches could not be riskier when building a brand image. With a product failure of 90% waiting around the corner, decisions should be made in a more systematic way. Consumer concerns can be studied before products are launched. Decision support tools can be built and used as guidelines for food product marketing communication.

Standardisation of decisions can be applied through company strategies and product concept lines. After all, why risk so much investment on continuously producing better products and mess it all up at the end, with decisions pulled from the air?

iNOBox project

The iNOBox project has built on the perspective described here and develops a decision support tool for food product marketing communication. The research, innovation, development, implementation, testing and verification of such a tool will result in decisions that can secure transparent marketing for consumers with welcoming open arms, for innovative food processing technologies and improved products in our future.