The Oxfam Behind the Brands campaign is shedding light in useful places
The issue of the second #BehindtheBrands research from Oxfam is another strong signal that the food and drink we buy and how it is made is right at the heart of one of the big debates of our time. It also demonstrates that only a small number of big food companies are learning, responding quickly and keeping ahead of the curve while the majority still seem to be playing catch up.
Here’s the website and research from Oxfam
Sugar is emerging as the big bad villain – in more ways than one
Is sugar the new tobacco?
I guess we all knew that sugar was bad. But there’s no doubt it is now becoming the icon issue for the sector.
The Daily Mail’s headline ( I know it’s the Daily Mail but their headline was the most striking!) stating that ‘Sugar is the new tobacco’ says all we need to know about the trajectory of this issue. It is simply becoming massive – and the food and drink brands know it.
But the slightly more surprising aspect to this issue has been the rapidly increased focus on the agricultural aspects.
That’s why the Oxfam advert that leads this year’s campaign is focused on this. I comment below on the advert itself but the main message from Oxfam is loud and clear. From land rights issues to unsustainable agricultural practices – the way in which sugar is produced is an equally toxic issue for the big brands. #Landrights
And the split between the leaders and the laggards emerges quickly on this issue too. Coca-Cola has had a lot of negative press on the land rights issue but its swift response and renewed public commitments mean that Oxfam praises it for its work and it comes out top on the land issue – pretty impressive. But beyond the top 3 companies on this issue – Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Unilever – (they are also the top 3 overall), the response is simply unimpressive. Have the other companies not learned? Have they not got it? Or are they working on it but just haven’t developed their positions far enough yet?
Make no mistake – sugar, with big health and supply issues, now really does have the same potential trajectory as tobacco #Sugartax.
The ‘land grab advert’ itself – a big missed opportunity
A quick comment on the advert itself
For me the approach is pretty heavy-handed and is a re-hash of the attack ads developed by WWF against Nestlé on palm oil. It’s a shame. A big, significant issue is given a slightly childish attack ad that doesn’t align well with Oxfam’s otherwise mature and constructive engagement approach with the big food companies. An approach that I know from personal experience is valued and seen as way more credible than the antagonism demonstrated by some other NGOs. I stand to be corrected if it has been massively successful, but I’m not sure this approach fits well alongside the ‘Behind the Brands’ programme – it feels like it’s from another age or from a student campus.
What do you think?
What the Behind the Brands research tells us: The leaders combine substance and communications
The research itself and the Behind the Brands scorecard are completely different in tone from the advert. Balanced, challenging but reasonable, the insights have the potential to both raise the awareness of the issues and encourage positive engagement and change in the companies themselves – surely the best possible outcome.
But, as already suggested, the real insight is basically the difference between the top 3 and the rest and the fact that this was the same a year ago.
Why the big difference? Behind the Brands scorecard
Nestlé, Unilever and Coca-Cola score 45/70 (64%), 44/70 (63%) and 38/70 (54%) respectively. The companies in joint 4th(Mondelez and Pepsico) score just 23/70 (33%). The bottom company is General Mills with 15/70 (21%).This is basically saying that only three of the big groups are doing this properly.
Why the big difference? Are the top 3 really that much more advanced? I guess with their global programmes and commitments and impressive leadership they probably are and it’s good to see that there is substance behind the comms. But surely the other companies have spotted this dramatic gap emerging and will have been working out how to close it – both in actions and in words if only to reduce the risk of exposure and reputational damage?
I think the big losers (or surprises really) in the rankings are Pepsico and Danone. Both companies have made big claims in their sustainability commitments and programmes and their leaders talk a great game. But perhaps the reality hasn’t kept up and the relentless improvement and commitment that is required is not as deep in these organisations as they would have led us, or themselves, to believe? Whatever the reason, there is a clear gap between stated ambition and performance.
But the underlying message in all of this is clear. The big food and drinks brands are firmly in the sights of governments, NGOs (both constructive and antagonistic) and consumers. Strong action, transparency and commitment are rewarded (generally) by stakeholders as witnessed here in the Coca-Cola land rights case. But for those that are dragging their feet, the risks are stacking-up higher and higher.
Overall though – bravo to Oxfam for a meaningful and constructive engagement approach; but thumbs down for the land rights advert.