Lindsey CarnettLindsey Carnett

Since the rise of natural stores like Whole Foods and an increased awareness surrounding allergens and non-GMOs, marketing food and beverage items has become more challenging. From the disclaimers to sampling protocol, a simple product launch isn’t as basic as it used to be.

Health claims are serious

O'Dwyer's Mar. '16 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '16 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

As the former marketing director for a global nutritional supplement brand, I spent hours on the phone with FDA and FTC attorneys reviewing structure and function claims tied back to published double-blind placebo controlled university studies as they related to product packaging, website copy, social media copy, messaging in national advertisements, even in press releases and pitch letters to media.

When launching a PR campaign for a brand with functional ingredients, request the list of approved claims, approved messaging, the full published clinical study and the supplement facts panel.

Pay close attention to the new rules

Today the regulatory environment is far stricter, especially when it comes to social media content from a compliance standpoint, as well as sending product samples to bloggers for review, requesting the appropriate disclosures be adhered to by your contacts.

It was recently reported that the FDA is investigating the health claims and benefits of many nutritional bars, asking some manufacturers to remove misleading claims from their packaging. This means having a crisis communications plan in place is a must when launching any consumable, especially when health claims are in the mix. This doesn’t just mean a phone tree. This is a designated hashtag for each terrible scenario you can think of so you own the conversation, pre-drafted social media posts, pre-recorded voicemail recordings, the skeleton of a press release, pre-drafted statements for the website and pre-drafted emails for key customers, including retailers who might be negatively affected.

Know your role

It’s important, as a PR professional in the field of functional foods and beverages, to manage expectations with clients in terms of lead-time for social media content, messaging strategies and disclosures with media receiving product to sample. Ideally, the client should have their legal counsel review blog posts, pitch letters, press releases and social media content and ads to ensure the product claims are in compliance.

Will this slow down the process? Yes. This simply means you’ll have to work a month ahead, depending on how quickly your client’s regulatory department can provide approvals. It’s better for your agency and for the client to be safe than sorry.

Pre-approved social media responses

Worried about the one-hour consumer expectation for social media response times? Develop a series of frequently asked consumer questions and pre-approved responses. If there’s a question that is too out of the ordinary, you will need to check with your client’s designated customer service agent or legal to develop the most appropriate response in a timely fashion.

Greater competition, differentiation

In 2016, it’s predicted that manufacturers will focus on producing foods and beverages that are deemed natural, healthy and clean, containing free from ingredients and benefiting from a non-GMO make-up. With so many different options, tastes and brands available, it is hard to remember a time when the nutrition industry was so competitive.

As of June 2015, more than 1,000 types of nutrition bars were on sale with growth in the category attributed to the consumer’s desire for a nutritional and fulfilling bar shaped snack alternative. The US food and nutritional bar market is projected to reach near $8.3 billion in 2016.

What’s next?

With new products, tastes and shapes released on a regular basis, products need to combine nutritional value and excellence to steal the attention of an increasingly health conscious, active consumer. This is both exciting and daunting for PR professionals.

There is room for creativity, new marketing tactics and consumer education surrounding the branded ingredients foods and beverage manufacturers are using to differentiate themselves from the competition. Just don’t forget to do your homework by paying close attention to the science, working with the legal dept. surrounding the claims and bringing your best marketing tactics for the next award-winning new product launches.

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Lindsey Carnett is CEO and President of Marketing Maven.