We all know that the food and grocery sector is competitive.

It’s big company against big company, all striving to improve existing products or develop the next iconic one – the next big ice cream treat, the special chocolate bar, the closer multi-blade shaver, the longer lasting deodorant, the multi-pronged action shampoo.

It’s also the small to medium-sized companies striving to carve out a niche, in the hope that one day their home-grown products will capture enough imagination to turn into something a whole lot bigger.

But whether it’s a multinational with factories around the world or a tiny jam-maker from Eketahuna, there are two imperatives above all others that help make the desired result achievable – listening to consumers and helping them improve their knowledge so they can make the best-informed choices.

Successful and responsible companies constantly do this. The more obvious examples can be seen every day on supermarket shelves in the form of Health Stars and the Heart Foundation Tick.

With the Heart Foundation Tick in the process of being phased out, the voluntary Health Star Rating system has become the predominant signpost for consumers as to how healthy a product is compared to other foods in the same category.

The fact that it’s voluntary but that we now have more than 3000 products sporting the distinctive stars shows how serious industry is when it comes to listening to and informing consumers. Consumers want healthier products so companies remove sugar, salt and fats and whatever else to comply.

The industry has moved in other ways, too.

FGC has produced a series of videos to help consumers shop better and eat healthier. Subjects include creating an energy gap, identifying snacks and treats, making smarter choices when shopping, food fads, healthy breakfasts, and choosing the right processed foods. We also have a website – HealthyBalance.nz – which is aimed at consumers, with information on eating seeds and pulses, and on consumption of salt, sugar, fats, fibre, vitamin K and vitamin D. There’s also material on fitness.

Many companies have healthy eating information and tips on their websites, with some of the bigger ones investing a lot of time and money into this way of helping consumers make informed choices.

A recent example of companies going well out of their way to help keep consumers informed was the move by two of our biggest companies – DB and Lion – to add nutritional information panels to the back of bottles, cans, and packaging for their beer products.

This move follows a Colmar Brunton survey commissioned by the Brewers Association which showed that 75 percent of respondents said they wanted nutritional content shown on alcohol product packaging. Among them, it showed that 83 percent of women were in favour of this. The Brewers Association says it’s aware that sugars and preservatives are particularly important to consumers, so they will be highlighted.

DB and Lion clearly took all this information seriously and are now running with it. As a result, more than 450 million beer bottles and cans will carry information on sugar, dietary fibre, protein and carbohydrate, on top of the standard drinks labelling.

This is a further great example of industry listening to its consumers and then acting on it to give them more information to make more informed choices. It’ll be interesting to see if the wider industry picks it up and follows suit.

(originally published in FMCG Business)