What will peak sugar mean for food brands?

It was interesting last week to see Coca-Cola get some local blowback from Woolworths on their new No Sugar Coke. Coke, a cornerstone in most supermarkets has been attacked over the years from many angles: constantly by perennial #2 Pepsi with the taste challenge; for a few years in the UK by Virgin; since forever by dentists and of course by the retailers themselves looking for discounts on the #1 brand lolly water.

But Coke’s fortunes are finally being dented by the changing tastes of consumers. With its sales falling and year over year shedding brand value Coke is scrambling to shore up its offer in what may become a post sugar society. The moves to clean up and focus the brand to one Coke with different formulas is part of this. Along with a late dash to using significantly more recycled plastic in bottles. Coke is pushing hard to create a simpler, healthier and greener brand for itself.

I’m not proposing that Coke is about to go out of business. But rather considering, as a thought experiment maybe, what should a brand like this do when consumers drift away and the brand’s main attributes become a weakness then a liability. The Sugar barons have followed Tobacco with less unhealthy products by small amounts, mudding the information water through dubious research and lobbying government policy to hold off the inevitable. But sooner or later the market will decide and then brands are left behind.

Yes, you can make you product healthier, with no sugar. But the same movement away from sugar is moving the market away from artificial sweeteners. Diversify into cold tea’s, power drinks, etc? But then your still selling sugar water to smaller markets. Buy up some water brands? But is there any loyalty in bottled water?

Will sugar go the way of tobacco? I don’t think so, I can’t see plane pack colas being sold out of cupboards. But if you think of it more like coal it’s a bit more interesting, or scary depending on where you work. Nobody (apart from some lunatics in the Australian Government) would invest in coal now, it’s too much of a long-term risk. Is sugar a risk too? We all know it’s a personal health risk, but what if it becomes an investment risk. That changes everything. I think the writings on the wall for sugar taxes, it may take a while. But it will happen and what then for food brands that are as reliant on sugar as Coke is? Will Kellogg’s be next? Maybe it’s time to think about the health credentials of you food brand?

Derek Carroll

Derek is the Creative Partner at Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in creating beautiful, effective and unique brand identities that bring strategy to life and resonate with audiences. Derek has extensive experience developing consumer, business, community and government brands.
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