Edward Hoffman
Edward Hoffman

What does the word “healthy” mean? If you say that healthy means choosing organic and hormone-free food, while I say it’s eating lean protein and drinking red wine, who’s right? The short answer is both of us.

While that may be frustrating and a bit unnerving, it’s also an opportunity for food, beverage and restaurant brands.

O'Dwyer's Mar. '17 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar.'17 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

Today, consumers are bombarded with definitions of health, from fortified and gluten-free to such ambiguous terms as “natural” and “fresh” (although the FDA is attempting to provide some clarity around the former). There are numerous interpretations of what constitutes health, and most can be argued as correct.

This broad and vague definition may be why 64 percent of consumers cite healthfulness as a driver in making food and beverage choices, according to the International Food Information Council’s Food and Health Survey 2016.

Because health can mean different things to different people, it’s important that your customers easily understand what it means for your brand through clear and consistent communications. If you plan to create a “healthy” product line extension or new menu items, or even reformulate existing products, it’s just as important to ensure that these changes are consistent with your brand positioning.

You want healthful product offerings to strengthen your brand equity in the eyes of consumers and stakeholders rather than dilute it and potentially mislead them.

Define “health”

Before creating your healthful products, and long before you begin promoting them to customers, you first need to define what constitutes health for your brand. Your definition of health must be believable, relevant and motivating to your customers. It needs to make sense, or you risk wasting valuable research and development dollars. Or worse, you could hurt your existing business.

For example, if a restaurant operator is beloved by customers because of its signature burgers and stuffed sandwiches, don’t walk away from this brand equity. Customers may be looking for more healthful options, but they still demand great-tasting food.

Offer smaller portion sizes or use lean protein. Depending on the restaurant concept, using organic ingredients, such as organic produce, might be a credible strategy. These are subtle yet effective ways to provide more healthful menu items while keeping the integrity of the menu. All of these approaches support the brand positioning and continue to provide customers with the food they love.

Embrace it

Once you’ve defined what “health” means for your brand, embrace your decision by offering multiple healthful items. The days of getting away with one or two “better for you” options are over. Consumers are trying to keep their diets balanced and want a lot of choices, believing moderation and portion control allow for both healthy and indulgent foods. “I’ll have a salad for lunch because I’m going to a new restaurant tonight and know that I’ll want dessert.” Sound familiar?

Let’s take a closer look at the smaller-portion strategy that is increasingly used across food and beverage categories as well as on restaurant menus. From 100-calorie snack packs to 90-calorie mini-cans of soda to half-serving options of menu items, these companies defined health by simply offering consumers less of the foods they love.

It’s an approach that reinforces the brand positioning, makes customers feel welcome and demonstrates commitment to providing more healthful options.

Tell your customers

Ultimately, success hinges on the ability of communications pros to tell the story in an authentic, unapologetic and confident manner. It’s imperative to clearly communicate to consumers what health means to your brand and to be consistent across all aspects of your marketing program. It’s also critical for company employees to understand and internalize your health position, regardless of whether or not they have direct contact with customers. People will ask questions in unexpected places and you want them to be prepared to provide clear, accurate responses.

So where do you start? At PadillaCRT, we begin every client assignment, no matter the complexity or budget size, with the same question: How do we connect our client to its target audience with purpose? Spend the time to understand what’s important to your customers in regard to health, where they get their news and who influences them.

Next, assess every marketing tool at your disposal and determine which ones will be the most effective and efficient in reaching your target audience.

Finally, develop a concise and meaningful story that resonates with your customers. There are numerous interpretations of health, and you want to avoid confusion with your customers’ preconceived definitions. You also want to avoid alienating them by suddenly having healthier options scattered throughout your product line-up or menu, especially if this is new territory for the brand.

Healthy eating — however you define it — will continue to grow and evolve. Consumer expectations for healthier options will also continue to increase and inevitably change. To successfully compete, you need to plant your “healthy stake” in the ground, make sure it fits with your brand and clearly inform your customers.

There will always be consumers, stakeholders or authorities (both real and perceived) who disagree with your definition. The key to success is being deliberate and transparent in your approach and consistent in communicating it.


Edward Hoffman is Senior Vice President at PadillaCRT and leads the Food + Beverage Practice.