The demonisation of sugar: Thai authorities dramatise the risks

Posted on:
September 27, 2016
Julian Mellentin

thai-diabetes-picA series of shocking images by the Thai anti-diabetes campaigners has provoked a strong reaction, and that was precisely their goal: to turn people away from sweets. The attention grabbing campaign sends an aggressive but clear message – if you eat too many sweets, you get diabetes.

Thailand’s population has long been struggling with diabetes and in an attempt to combat the disease, the country’s Diabetes Association launched a shocking campaign billed “Sweet Kills” that shows the consequences of excessive sugar consumption.

Designer Nattakong Jaengsem, commissioned by the Diabetes Association of Thailand to produce the campaign, created a visually striking series of posters showing limbs with gaping wounds much like those caused by gangrene – only the wounds, when you look closely, are running with confectionery.

The in-your-face marketing move is no accident. Diabetes is a big public health problem in Thailand with 9.6% of the population affected by the disease, according to the most recent World Health Organisation report.

The Thai government has taken several steps to address the issue, starting with the introduction of a universal health care programme to ease the impact of diabetes in 2002. However, many Thais, mainly those living in rural areas, failed to reap the benefits of the new programme, having never been diagnosed. So in 2009 the Government launched a diabetes and hypertension screening campaign for people aged 35 and older, and within the next two years more than 90% of these people were tested.

However, the recent campaign by the Diabetes Association is exceptional because it establishes a direct link between sugar intake and gangrene, one of the most horrific consequences of diabetes. Over time, diabetes causes cardiovascular damage and diminishes blood circulation, and as a result, wounds may take longer to heal, and gangrene can result.

Jaengsem created a compact and compelling visual formula showing the cause and effect of diabetes – one that is sure to make people think twice before they pick up another piece of candy.

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Recycled probiotic helps kale to grow

Posted on:
August 31, 2016
Julian Mellentin

Actimel and kaleIt’s good to see the empty packaging of one of the most successful health brands of the 1990s used to protect the leaves of one of the most hip and cool healthy snacks of the 21st century. I took this picture in a community garden, where the owner of the plot has placed her old Actimel bottles upside down on sticks planted in the ground as bird-scarers. Together, Actimel and kale tell a story.

Danone Actimel, launched back in 1994, quickly became the world’s biggest probiotic dairy drink for immune health and a well-known global symbol of the food and health revolution that it helped begin.

Over 20 years later, Actimel is still around and it’s still a big brand. But it is kale – sold not fresh but processed into snacks and chips of all kinds – that has the bigger profile right now.

The success of kale, the hipster snack of choice from Los Angeles to London, shows how the trend of “naturally functional” has taken over. Kale – one of the most widely-cultivated vegetables in Europe – is naturally healthy, delivering 20% of the RDA (per 100g serve) of a suite of vitamins, from C to K to B6.

And foods with natural and intrinsic health benefits are what people want, more than anything else – this explains the success of coconut water and coconut oil, blueberries, oats, dark chocolate and a host of others.

Of course, kale is not convenient enough in the “fresh-from-the-garden” natural form in the picture above, so on-trend millennials buy it processed into convenient, portable snacks. Because that’s what people mean when they say they want their foods “as natural as possible and least processed” – it must be processed enough to be convenient. People are just fine with frying, baking and extruding as long as you describe the process as “gentle” on the packaging.

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Big food’s need to nurture will make start-ups succeed

Posted on:
June 29, 2016
Julian Mellentin

Michel Augustin 2There’s an idea that many people have that “big food” – as the much-reviled large food companies of the world are often called – can’t manage and grow small entrepreneurial brands, and can’t respond fast enough to consumers’ desires for products that are natural and organic.

As one online new source put it: “Big US food groups are struggling to adapt”. However, as is often the case with popular wisdoms, this one isn’t exactly true.

In fact, in today’s viciously competitive supermarkets, start-ups without partnerships with entrepreneurially-minded big food groups might just disappear.

The relationship between organic food pioneer Annie’s Homegrown and General Mills shows just what’s possible when David and Goliath co-operate and gives a clue as to what might happen next now that dairy giant Danone has taken a 40% stake in Michel et Augustin, the best-known small entrepreneurial brand in France.

General Mills – the world’s 10th-biggest food company, with sales of $12.5 billion (€11 billion) – acquired Annie’s in 2014. Since then Annie’s has expanded far beyond its earlier constraints, growing to nearly $300 million (€265 million) a year in sales from about $200 million (€177 million) when General Mills bought the company in late 2014.

Annies – beloved by parents for its organic kids foods – is showing its new owners how to formulate better-for-you products, how to tap into enthusiastic consumer bases around organic foods, and is providing the larger company with a new growth engine.

General Mills has got Annie’s into new outlets such as schools and is enabling Annie’s to win more customers by extending its trusted brand to other segments beyond its core of macaroni and cheese and kids’ crackers. Annie’s has used the extra resource to double its number of new product launches.

“We got a lot of blowback from customers when the announcement came out that we’d sold,” Annie’s CEO John Foraker told New Nutrition Business.

“There were 20,000 posts on Facebook about it very quickly, and 99% of them were negative. It was less about hating GM and more about loving our brand and not wanting it to change. Once we were able to tell our story and reassure everyone that we were very much committed to our values—that we were going to stay in Berkeley [California] and most of the same people would continue to run Annie’s—the fear died down and we haven’t seen a negative impact on our business.

“And if anything, we’re bringing a larger number of Annie’s consumers into the fold.”

Foraker said that General Mills has stuck to its promises to let Annie’s run itself without compromise. “We haven’t been asked to compromise once on our products, what we stand for, what we message about—for example, we continue to be strong advocates for GMO labeling, and General Mills hasn’t tried to silence that at all,” he said.

For the parent company, Foraker added, acquiring Annie’s—to add to its lineup of organic brands that also includes Larabar, Cascadian Farms and a handful of others—“was a pretty significant signal that the company understands there have been really big shifts in consumers, and as a consumer-first organisation, they wanted to lead with consumers where they’re going.

“Also we bring a different culture—faster, more entrepreneurial, more willing to take risks.” Annie’s is helping General Mills with acquisitions of other better-for-you startups, such as the very recently purchased Epic Provisions, which makes meat bars (see NNB February 2016).

Foraker has stayed as president of his company since the acquisition and now also is in charge of General Mills’ “center of excellence” for organic and natural foods.

“We’re taking the best practices and our knowledge of the industry and how to stay relevant across channels and apply those best practices at [General Mills] brands and leveraging those across operating units to drive growth,” Foraker told New Nutrition Business.

Putting Epic, the meat-bar startup, under Annie’s and Foraker is another way that General Mills is capitalising on its ownership of Annie’s. “It’s a good example of a big company identifying a real cool brand that can do lots of cool stuff but which is very small,” he said.

“They want to incubate it and build it out like we did Annie’s. So they put it under us because we know how to operate brands like that. They see the opportunity to leverage best practices and acquire growth assets earlier in their development. It’s a big transition.”

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