Packaging’s role in reassuring consumers about food quality

In the wake of the Tesco burger scandal, packaging has an even more important role to play in reassuring consumers about the quality of what they are eating.

Given the recent news that a sample of Tesco Everyday Value beef burgers contained 29% horse meat, it’s interesting to see that McDonald’s has unveiled new packaging designs which it says are the latest step in their on-going commitment to provide consumers with information to help them make informed choices.

The new design of carry-out bags and beverage cups feature a blend of text, illustrations and a QR code to deliver interesting facts about the brand and make nutrition information easily accessible from mobile devices.

Initially launched in the US last week, the new designs will continue rolling out worldwide through 2013, with the text being translated into 18 different languages.

Kevin Newell, McDonald’s chief brand officer says: “Customers tell us they want to know more about the food they are eating and we want to make that as easy as possible by putting this information right at their fingertips.”

Clearly, anything that helps consumers make more informed choices about what they eat is to be welcomed. However, the real issue is whether or not consumers actually believe what they are being told – especially when it comes to low cost food from quick service outlets or supermarket value lines?

McDonald’s has made massive strides in its marketing and gone a long way to shake-off its old down-market image. But with Burger King being implicated in the horsemeat scandal, questions are bound to be asked about what goes into a £1.99 Happy Meal or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

The reality is that it’s not just Tesco and the other supermarkets that will have to repair their tarnished image now that the horse has bolted. The whole of the food industry has a mountain to climb in convincing consumers that a random selection of farmyard animals is not going into products.

As experts in food and drink PR we believe brands now need to work even harder to demonstrate they have full control of their supply chain and to communicate the provenance and purity of their food, if they are to win and maintain consumer confidence. Those which do will be able to drive sales through increased consumer loyalty. Easy to access on-pack information has a key role to play in communicating these messages to consumers.

In addition, consumers are going to demand better quality food. However a move to increased quality will also mean an increase in price.

Cash strapped consumers, especially those buying value lines are going to be the ones least likely to cope with more expensive groceries. The pressure will therefore fall on the food manufacturers to deliver better quality without increasing their cost base.

However, it’s my suspicion that attempts to square that particular circle are the very reason why horse meat ended up in Tesco’s freezers.

The fact is that we need an open and honest debate about the cost and content of our food. Grocery bills are going to get more expensive and we need to recognise that this is an opportunity to improve the quality of our food and potentially improve the quality of our diet.

Pelican Communications are specialists in the environmentfood and drinkoutdoor and leisure and packaging sectors and offer a range of services such as media relations, brand management, event management and people developmentContact us for marketing and communications expertise.