Archive for the ‘Food & Drink’ Category

Following our debate in May looking at The Responsibility Deal, we were really interested in seeing the article on page 2 of The Independent yesterday: Drinks industry takes a hold on Government alcohol policy

According to this article, the alcohol industry has tightened its grip on a key government policy making committee that is responsible for reducing the harm of excessive drinking.

The name of the committee has changed from the ‘Alcohol Strategy Group’ to the ‘Government and Partners Working Group on Alcohol’, which The Independent positioned, reflecting its new commercial bias?

The article also looks at the debate on whether the Government was right to consult the industry about its plans but was wrong to include it on policy-making committees. 

It discusses whether “making money from alcohol sales is at odds with reducing harm.” 

The Department of Health will publish a revised alcohol strategy later this year. As we discussed at a previous  Conversation Society live debate, in March of this year, six major health groups did not sign up to the “Responsibility Deal” on alcohol covering voluntary deals with the drinks industry on matters like price, labels and marketing.

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern said yesterday the Government must decide if it “wants to get to grips with alcohol harm or let the drinks industry call the shots.” 

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We are committed to challenging the assumption that the only way to change people’s behaviour is through adding rules and regulations.” 

Dr Vivienne Nathanson commented on how alcohol firms have a vested interest in boosting sales. She says “we badly need an alcohol strategy, but executives from the drinks industry are not the people we want writing it.” 

Whatever your view points on this, we can’t ignore the prevalence it has following these recent comments. This topic seems to be very much on agenda at the moment, with BBC Panorama looking last night at the growing toll of harm caused to young people by alcohol.


A week ago the Conversation Society hosted its third debate which looked at Sustainability: Is business doing enough? Is it OK to profit from sustainability?

Next to talk from our panel was Wolfgang  Weinmann, who is the Strategy Director for Cafédirect

 Wolfgang starts off by saying “When I look at the question of; can you profit from sustainability? I thought, well, actually, it’s the other way round.  Sustainability is actually absolutely essential in the 21st century for a business to make profit, because you have to take into account along your supply chain, as Jo explains, are not just a small part what you control as a business, but alongside what do you actually with the stakeholders you engage from the production phase all the way through to the consumer and track the challenges and track the impact and find the solutions around sustainability.”

The production side of Cafédirect business is to engage with the farmers on environmental, social, organisational challenges of their livelihood, to start with, not only the production but how they can produce coffee and tea in a more sustainable way. Once a plan is formulated the final product is tracked to engage with the consumer through sustainable consumption.

It is important to do an environmental footprint and keep it regularly updated. Cafédirect are in the hot beverages sector and in terms of their environmental footprint the biggest impact is preparing the hot beverages. All sorts of issues need to be taken into consideration because he people working within the business might not boil the water correctly or use too much water which can consume a lot of energy, etc.  However, it is up to the people to make a more sustainable product, not just down to a business or the farmer.

Defining sustainability from producer to consumer along the supply chain require clear targets to be set to ensure that the environmental footprint is improved.  Wolfgang states “But then again, it’s not just about the environment, because as a business it really, as a core mission, it’s hard to achieve tangible impact in grower communities in developing countries, you definitely have to put the social elements there of the livelihoods of the farmers there as well and balance that with the environmental and, in the end, in the financial ones, because we are not a charity.  So we don’t do that out of only social reasons, we leave that to Oxfam, they do a better job than us in rolling out programmes in developing countries and communities.”  The organic market in the UK is not where it should be and a lot of us make these type of decisions, “Oh well, it costs 50p more for organic coffee or tea, do I want to spend that?  What are the benefits for me as a consumer?” In this country the organic market is very separate.  Since 2008, because of the recession, it went down by-35%, a massive drop in the organic consumption in this country.  The question is now linking the overall sustainability agenda with a producer who would actually like to go organic, because it’s better for him/her?”

There is a challenge to linking these different elements, but that’s what business modesl should aim to do. Wolgang gives us a tangible example, “I came back two weeks ago from Africa, from a small, tiny island called Sao Tome off the west coast of Africa, where we started three years ago to work with cocoa growers.  So from this scratch to really look, “Well, where can we have the highest impact again?” from production to launching a product in the UK market, where we get the sustainability right, and so working with them really is on improving their quality, because we definitely, when we talk about sustainability, it has to include quality, you can’t sell nowadays a product that is not up to scratch in terms of sustainability. So you have to get that message across with farmers, but also, of course, with the incentives in terms of incentives of training them and incentives of price.  Because our business model does recognise, of course, of shifting them benefits and values, because we are not about profit maximisation but actually about what’s the most sustainable way longer haul business models are, you know, a farmer has to benefit from producing higher quality for producing sustainable products.  So starting on that level we will train the farmers.”

Nestle, Kraft and Cadbury are finally waking up to sustainability and it is absolutely essential to their business model, and  showing engagement along a supply chain to do something about it.

Lastly Wolfgang summarises that second part of the question: Is it enough?  “Well, again, not, because the challenges in sustainability are mounting or they’re changing constantly, they’re not getting smaller, they’re actually getting bigger.  So there’s lots of catching up to do, I think, for many, many companies, and as well for Cafédirect, as I said, we never have all the answers, but we do try hard to find these answers and identify both the new areas of sustainability for farmers and for our business model, and for the consumer in the UK, to push the agenda forward.”

Last month saw The Conversation Society hosting its second debate, looking at the UK Drinks Industry and the Responsibility Deal.

Our final evening panellist was Nick Southgate, communications consultant and proponent of Behavioural economics.

Nick Southgate


Nick spent time looking at the individual, as a consumer. His view is that the reason people do things is often not an individual motivation. What people often do, because we like to short-cut our decisions, is what other people do… we spend most of our lives doing more or less what we think the people around us are doing.

He went on to discuss how this is central to his thoughts on the debate in question. “I think cultural change is really the only way to affect individual change, including when it comes to alcohol consumption.”

Mark addressed his thought process by discussing things that we could do culturally to change people’s individual actions.

“First, we could change glass sizes so that smaller drinks were much more fashionable; these days the small wine glasses of yesteryear are so passé and we all want vast buckets but this is just fashion and the industry and partners could do a lot to change this.

We could, in a similar vein, make low alcohol drinks every bit as engaging and motivating as we currently do normal strength beers and wines, we could work harder to make these the drinks people want.

We could do more to routinely serve alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks together thereby diluting the effect of the alcoholic consumption more. And this could be done by improving the availability bias – for example, teaching bar staff to routinely serve a jug of water with each round or have water and glasses on all tables or simply to ask ‘would you like a non-alcoholic drink with that too?’ more often.

I also wonder why we don’t have more gourmet drinking establishments?  If you think of the number of high-end restaurants in which you have the sort of menu degustation and all these tiny amounts of food… there seems to be very little like this in the drinks world which instead seems to operate much more at the bargain bucket end of the spectrum.”

I also think about Jamie Oliver in the food industry – an engaging crusading figure who explains clearly why ‘better’ is more important than ‘more’ – someone who can almost single-handedly reframe the whole discussion.

Then there are oblique solutions… for example… I read a recent paper on how to reduce drinking on campus which said one of the most effective ways to do this was to increase the number of 9am lectures because it increases the cost of a hangover especially if those lectures are ones which are academically credited so you really do have to be there.”

“My conclusion is that the evidence seems to be showing more and more that culture is what needs to be changed. A responsibility agenda which is just about the individual looks less and less defensible and less and less credible. I think we are entering a new era of responsibility and this is what it will be about.”  Nick Southgate, May 2011.

Last month saw The Conversation Society hosting its second debate, looking at the UK Drinks Industry and the Responsibility Deal.

Following David Poley’s thoughts, we heard from Mark Baird (Corporate Social Responsibility Director, Diageo GB)

Mark Baird 

Mark continued the conversation by talking us through Diageo’s approach.

“Diageo’s approach is three-pronged: firstly we seek to create a more positive role for drinking; secondly we target specific actions and programmes on minority groups who misuse alcohol; and lastly we continually reinforce positive attitudes and behaviour among the overwhelming majority who drink responsibly.”

“Contextually, it’s hard to believe all of the following given how the media reports alcohol, but they’re all true: average alcohol consumption is down, harmful drinking is down, hazardous drinking is down, those drinking on more than five days a week is down, binge drinking is down, underage and teenage drinking is down, the number of alcohol-related crimes is down and the number of alcohol-related deaths is down.”

Mark then went on to explain that these declining numbers are NOT because of the recession, despite what some might say. “They began falling around 2004, years before the recession began. And I believe they began falling because of what we as an industry and companies like Diageo have been doing during that time.”

At industry level, the Drinkaware Trust was established around six years ago and its five-year, £100million “why let good times go bad?” campaign, aimed at 18-24 year olds, has had significant  success; backed by 45 companies involved in the production or retail of alcohol it now has results showing around 70% of target groups have been prompted to reconsider their drinking as a result of the campaign.

“As for Diageo specifically, we were the first company to launch a national responsible drinking campaign in 2007 and we fund a wide range of social responsibility activities up and down the country. For example, we fund the delivery of a hard-hitting drama about the risks of alcohol which has been delivered to 12-14 year-olds in more than 90 schools – 18,000 kids; we fund a programme in Angus which takes troubled teenagers from three high schools and involves them in rebuilding old motorbikes, preparing them for race days and then acting as race-crew – the rebuilding happens on Friday nights and the races on Saturday and Sunday mornings, so no drinking and no hangovers.”

“We support a police-led project in West Yorkshire where volunteers go into the streets in the early evening and engage with young women to warn them about the serious risks involved in drinking too much.

These are just some of our community initiatives; on a broader scale we also support the Home Office backed Purple Flag and Best Bar None schemes as well as Brake, The British Liver Trust and the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.”

So, to answer the question ‘are we entering a new era of responsibility?’ my view is a resounding no. And I base this on the fact that we as an industry, and Diageo as a company, have been involved in a new era of responsibility for at least the last seven years. Mark Baird May 2011.

Last month saw The Conversation Society hosting our second debate, looking at the UK Drinks Industry and the Responsibility Deal.


First to talk from our excellent panel was David Poley, CEO, The Portman Group. David started by taking us on a trip down memory lane, where we remembered the campaigns of 20 years ago,  ‘George’ the Hoffmeister bear and the campaign which featured cartoon woodpeckers and the strapline ‘spend some time out of your tree’.

 But David then examined that these are examples from 20 years ago and we’ve since been on a long journey of gradual changes. We have seen a huge change in attitudes towards alcohol marketing.  What was considered safe is now considered irresponsible.  What was considered irresponsible is now, hopefully, not even considered.

David commented by saying “The industry is expected to go further.  To be proactive in educating, informing and influencing consumers into more responsible behaviour.” This has led to a new way of thinking in many drinks companies. So, now, bottles and cans routinely feature unit content information, responsible drinking guidelines and warnings against drinking during pregnancy. On drinks marketing, point-of-sale and on websites you’ll see references to Drinkaware and its website and of course, in the last few years we’ve launched the Drinkaware Trust.

We also now have the Responsibility Deal between industry and Government.  This is providing the impetus for companies to look at new ways that they can help tackle alcohol misuse and promote healthy lifestyles.  In return for this, the Government has resolved to resist imposing legislation in these areas.  The Responsibility Deal is therefore a good thing for industry and, I believe for society. 

David concluded by saying “But the Responsibility Deal is not the end of the journey.  Sooner or later, the industry will face fresh pressure in one area or another.  So my view is that we need to keep doing what we have been doing, to try and anticipate where public expectation is going and make sure that we’re doing all we can to act responsibly and meet that expectation.”

Looking back at our last event, we wanted to share some conversational highlights from the evening itself. On 11th May 2011, we invited marketers, PR and comms and industry professionals to discuss, challenge and argue the topic ‘Is The UK drinks industry in a new era of responsibility?’

So why did we decide to tackle this topic? Well, the responsibility agenda is rarely far from the headlines of late. Six leading health groups rejected the government’s new responsibility deal earlier this year, deeming “it just wasn’t tough enough”.  This spotlight seems unlikely to dim in the near future.

To lead the conversation we invited three excellent speakers: David Poley, CEO The Portman Group; Mark Baird, CSR Manager Diageo GB; and behavioural economist Nick Southgate, to each speak for 10 minutes – no visuals, no PowerPoint, no charts, just conversation.

The event was a great success with over 30 attendees on the night, actively joining the discussion and posing questions to our brilliant panel.

The conversation also didn’t stop within the 4 walls of the privately hired room at The Soho House Hotel, but went online via Twitter too. Many people were using our #tag  #conversationsociety, choosing to follow the conversation via this channel!

 “I think The Conversation Society is a great idea to get people talking, face to face,  about the issues that matter in our society today” Mark Baird, CSR Manager Diageo GB

Speaking at the event will be David Poley, The Portman Group; Nick Southgate, School of Life; and Mark Baird, Diageo

The next Conversation Society event on Weds 11th May,  Soho Hotel, London,  is going to be of great interest for marketeers, comms professionals and movers & shakers in the drinks industry.  The topic for the event is: ‘Is the UK drinks industry entering a new era of responsibility?’.

To register  for this free event, follow the link

The responsibility agenda is rarely far from the headlines and the rejection by six leading health groups of the governments new “responsibility deal” last month, on the grounds that it wasn’t tough enough, ensured that it was front page.  This spotlight seems unlikely to dim in the near future.

So how can the industry – health lobby impasse be overcome?  What role do government, industry and drinkers have? What is currently being done by the industry? And is there a smarter way to address the problem?

To lead the conversation we have three excellent speakers (David Poley, CEO, The Portman Group; Mark Baird, CSR Manager, Diageo GB; and behavioural economist Nick Southgate) who will each speak for 10 minutes – no visuals, no powerpoint, no charts, just good old conversation – to share their thoughts.  We then open the conversation up to all attendees.

Follow us @ConverSociety and via the hashtag #conversationsociety on Twitter or via our official Group on LinkedIn:

And to register to attend, follow the link (more…)