Making less mean more

Five opportunities for brands to adapt and innovate in the wake of restrictions on advertising foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

Murillo Meireles Lisboa

Planner Missouri Creative


We are in the middle of a health crisis. Not the Covid-19 pandemic, but an obesity crisis. According to Sky News in the UK, two thirds of all adults are overweight, and one third of those are obese. Around the world, the scales are tipping in the wrong direction, and the Covid-19 pandemic added to that, as 9 in 10 deaths globally took place in countries with a high obesity rate. 

In the UK, the government is introducing a ban on HFSS (high-fat, salt and sugar) food advertising. Similar restrictions – albeit not as punitive – are also being implemented in other countries, including Australia, Canada, France and Mexico. Change is coming across the whole food and beverages category, and not just because of a change in government policy.

A major shift in consumer behaviour has been taking place for years. In fact, according to FMCG Gurus 51% of consumers claim to have switched ‘traditional’ snacks for high-protein or low-sugar ones in the last year. The same is true for alcoholic drinks. In the US, Forbes reports that sales of non-alcoholic beer grew by 34.8% in 2020. 

If you already have a new better for you product in your pipeline, you may be wondering how you can position, package and communicate these line extensions. Fortunately, this is charted territory. No and low alcohol brands have been doing this for years. Rather than seeing it as a negative, we see a lot of opportunity for brands to make ‘less’ – calories, alcohol, fat, sugar, salt – mean ‘more’:

With this in mind we have identified five opportunities for brands to adapt and innovate: 

1. More visibility

As some media channels become off-limits, your ‘better for you’ products will become the new heroes. They will help to keep your brand salient, giving consumers something to talk about.

In the last two years, Forbes reports that organic social media conversations about Nolo beverages were up by 85%, whilst conversations about alcoholic beer were down by 23%. 

And because there is always going to be an appetite for indulgent treats – Nielsen data shows that 64% of consumers globally believe it is okay to enjoy them as part of a balanced diet – your ‘Better for you’ products will take up the role of recruiters for the wider portfolio.

2. More consumers

There are many reasons why people are now choosing ‘better for you’ products – culture, increased health awareness, greater variety, and improved quality. All of them make the ‘better for you’ category a large and diverse market waiting to be conquered.

In the case of alcohol-free beer, the WHO estimates that the size of the market is equivalent to 57% of the world’s population. 

So rather than seeing ‘better for you’ products in your portfolio as niche, look at the enormous potential to increase brand penetration. Lower fat, salt and sugar food products are not only more likely to come into the consideration list of consumers following strict diets, but they can be consumed with more frequency too.

3. More fun

Technology and social media have enabled new, nimble brands in the ‘better for you’ sector to disrupt categories that were previously dominated by a few heavyweights.

One thing all of these ‘challengers’ have in common is an inherent ability to break the rules: playing with pre-established category codes and conventions, with an incredibly high level of social media fluency, and their focus tends to be on e-commerce.

A shift in consumer behaviour is also fuelling the playful nature of these brands. Younger generations are more willing to set themselves apart through the brands they buy, and see up-and-coming brands as a tool to achieve that goal.                                               

Being ‘new kids on the block’, these brands are not bound by category codes and conventions, or by attributes like heritage and behaviour from the parent brand. But with new products in the pipeline, your brand has an opportunity to create impact as well.

4. More occasions 

One of the biggest opportunities for alcohol brands when launching no and low product extensions is the possibility of making their brand present in previously unimagined occasions. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal 20% of all non-alcoholic beers are sold as a replacement to soft drinks, instead of alcoholic options. 

From sponsorship deals with Formula One to pop-up experiences like fitness classes and drive-thru tasting stations, drinks brands can now target new and existing consumers in different places and occasions.

As a result, even sales of their standard alcoholic drinks are up. In the case of Heineken, by 8.3% in 2019; their best performance in over 10 years, according to Yahoo Finance.

5. More purpose 

Your brand’s purpose and activism are good starting points when trying to find a message that can overcome the incoming channel barriers.

In fact, ‘purpose’ is already one of the main drivers of purchase for some consumers, in particular Gen Z and Millennials. McKinsey data shows that  9 in 10 Gen Z consumers think brands have a responsibility to help address social and environmental issues. 

A brand that understands this well and has leveraged brand purpose and activism to connect with young consumers is Ben & Jerry’s. They always manage to compellingly incorporate their products and messages into larger social movements to scale their communications.

As a result, according to YPulse Ben & Jerry’s is the 8th most loved food brand amongst 13-17 years old, despite them facing tight marketing restrictions.


Joining Missouri five years ago, Murillo heads up the agency’s strategy department. Murillo is the mastermind behind building and developing client strategies, working closely with both the account and creative teams. His experience spans over multiple sectors, from F&B to education to sport. Murillo is also heavily involved in writing insights and trends reports, and is the primary copy writer for the agencies bi-annual publication, Show Me.

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