Is ’Good for You’ Good for Your Brand?

By Dustin Longstreth

Think carefully before rushing to join the ’low-carb’ parade. Over time, brand identity will outweigh loyalty to a single product benefit.
Thanks to the success of popular diets such as Atkins, South Beach and the Zone, the term “low-carb” has become synonymous with “good for you.” As a result, food and beverage marketers are scrambling to redefine their brands in a more healthful context.
Seemingly every food and beverage category, from bread to beer, is introducing low-carb alternatives. Entire retail chains, such as Totally Low Carb Stores (TLC), have sprung up around the low-carb benefit. The “noise” emanating from low-carb shelf “violators” in the grocery aisle has reached deafening levels.
In this frenetic environment, marketers must be careful to avoid confusing product benefits with their brand’s identity. Perceived health benefits such as reduced carbohydrates may be highly relevant for some brands, but they never will be sustainable points of differentiation.
Two reasons why:
- The low-carb strategy is imitated easily.
- For some consumers, the low-carb benefit simply may be emotionally irrelevant.
- Avoid the “me-too” syndrome

This is not to say that you should avoid playing up the healthful benefits of your product. But brands that confuse consumers about what they really are risk hopping aboard a “benefit bandwagon” and lapsing into “me-too” mode.
Brands that follow this approach lack any meaningful distinction. It may even run contrary to their intended “emotional” experience.
Many recent studies show that an increasing number of Americans are monitoring their carbohydrate intake. Baby Boomers continue, as a group, to demonstrate a growing interest in health and wellness in their middle-age years.
And with childhood obesity on the rise, parents want nutritional products their kids will enjoy as well.
A Product…or a Brand?
With these market dynamics at work, billions of dollars in sales are at stake. The winners will be marketers who seize the opportunity to bring low-carb offerings to the shelf—but in the right way.
Products that focus on the low-carb benefit, foremost, are easy to imitate. The packaging focuses on common words. Graphics tend to convey the same message. Consumers feel challenged to find any real difference when examining these products side-by-side.
This strategy may result in a new product, but clearly you don’t have a brand.
You want to call attention to your product’s healthful attributes, but you also need to signal the emotional ones that make the essence of your product unique.
Some shortsighted strategies are in play today in the food and beverage aisles. It’s easy to identify food marketers that are rushing to define their brand experience purely in the context of the low-carb benefit. Brand names like CarbRite, CarbSmart and “Carb-You-Name-It” have become ubiquitous.
Play up Emotional Relevance
When the low-carb diet craze cools, marketers who hitched their product’s wagon to that single benefit may find their sales sagging. Staying focused on your brand’s emotional relevance must remain the beacon for all strategic brand identity decisions.
Brands such as Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice and Weight Watchers understand this—and that’s why they have staying power. Foremost, their product naming and packaging communication promote overall wellness rather than a sole benefit like low-carb or low-fat.
Staying true to a “healthier you” brand experience allows them to develop products capable of addressing a range of dietary needs and tastes without becoming exclusively about a single benefit.
The amount of carbs, calories or fat often may be prominently displayed on the carton’s face panel. However, consumers never regard these benefits as the brand’s reason to exist. They’re simply claims.
Beyond issues of “me-too” packaging and the lack of a true brand, consider that some consumers dismiss the low-carb benefit as emotionally irrelevant.
They are seeking healthier choices, but they want more. Research consistently shows consumers long to eat better, but they will not sacrifice taste.
Despite much-publicized concerns about over-eating, consumers continue to get their fill of junk food.
With a single Krispy Kreme doughnut weighing in at 12 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbohydrates and 200 calories, there is no discussion of health benefits on the packaging or in the stores.
The Krispy Kreme brand identity and packaging remain simple and focused on the innocent pleasure of enjoying a hot and delicious treat. The result? A five-year annual growth rate of 65 percent.
A Krispy Kreme store is a place where consumers can indulge their senses as they watch the doughnuts being made.
Domino’s Pizza markets a Philly Cheese Steak pizza with plenty of carbs, fat and calories.
These products continue to grow in part by staying true to their “impulsive indulgence” identity—even as consumers continue to demand healthier offerings. They remain focused on communicating the taste and enjoyment benefits of their brand’s experience rather than pushing nutritional value.
What’s the lesson here? While demand for nutraceuticals and low-carb product offerings may be increasing, great taste will always drive business.
The author, Dustin Longstreth, manages brand strategy and business development at Wallace Church Inc.,a brand identity consultancy and design firm in New York.
Contact Dustin at 212.755.2903 or
As you consider package design…
“Good for you” does not necessarily translate to “good for me” with many consumers. How much of an emphasis should health benefits play in packaging for your brand? The answer lies in the old adage, know your consumer.
Find out what role, if any, health claims play in enhancing your brand and then incorporate them only within the context of your brand’s unique emotional experience.
Do they want appetite appeal first, or should your packaging play up the health benefits?
The following list may help you in package development:
- Stay focused and be true to your brand experience. Make sure that your brand’s identity is relevant to your product and provides meaningful differentiation.
- Understand that product claims such as “low-carb” and “zero trans fat” are only claims rather than brand drivers. Claims are easily imitated while strong brand identities provide sustainable points of differentiation.
- Healthful claims and positioning are not equally relevant for all brands. We eat foods we crave, foods that taste good and make us feel good both physically and emotionally.

Just what is the ’it’ in comfort foods?
Despite their typically low nutritional value, comfort foods still manage to elude the barrage of criticism from concerned consumers.
Comfort foods, by definition, have established strong emotional connections with consumers. They inoculate us from the whims of the latest diet fads. Feelings of love, security and optimism easily trump any nutritional benefits they offer.
For many brands, speaking to the heart is much stronger than speaking to the waistline.
Case in point: Barilla pasta and sauces. While the pasta category as a whole has taken a hit from increasing numbers of consumers choosing to forgo products they perceive as high-carb, Barilla continues to grow.
Instead of caving to popular trends and developing a “Low-CarBarilla” sub-brand suite of products, Barilla has chosen to continue leveraging its vibrant Italian heritage.
True Italian cooking doesn’t concern itself with popular American diet trends. It’s all about enjoying the best that life has to offer.
Packaging for Barilla pastas and sauces stays true to this identity. It promotes a rich, authentic Italian culinary experience.
Barilla capitalizes on this warm feeling by communicating prestige, quality and authenticity—in lieu of health benefits—in its packaging.