Choose Your Words Wisely

On Wednesday, Propel reported Pret A Manger intends to remove the word “natural” from its logo and packs following pressure from the Real Bread Campaign. The article went on to state the move to remove “natural” was a response to revelations the company uses some artificial additives in its sandwich bread. 

Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in favour of a complaint by the Real Bread Campaign, which argued Pret was misleading customers with claims on its website of selling certain items of “natural” food. The ruling was based on the fact Pret’s bread contains three additives including E472e, which strengthens dough and reduces the number of large holes.

From my limited understanding of food regulations, the definition of what constitutes natural is not clearly defined, whereas the definition of organic (as an example and by way of contrast) is tightly defined. Legally, it would appear, Pret doesn’t have a case to answer. Of course, the debate centres around what customers potentially believe to be the truth about a product versus the reality. I imagine most customers, when asked, would say a natural product shouldn’t include additives and would feel disappointed at learning the news about Pret.

However, Pret is not alone in this – certainly not when pubs, bars and restaurants are thrown in the mixing bowl. The word “fresh”, for instance, can similarly be interpreted in the same number of ways as “natural”. One client told me it didn’t really matter if a product was fresh as long as it had the “perception of being fresh” – customers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference – so we had to add the word “fresh” as many times as possible in the menu copy. Their argument was a frozen and defrosted product could appear fresh and was just as good as one that hadn’t been frozen. Would customers feel the same way, I wonder?

Or take “freshly cooked”. What does that really mean? Or “freshly battered”, “freshly made” or, my particular favourite, “freshly prepared”? The implication of all these phrases is every element of a dish is made in response to an order hitting the kitchen as opposed to any part of it being pre-made, pre-packaged, frozen or tinned. This simply cannot be the case in all instances. The word “fresh” is so powerful in the minds of customers, though, a minority of operators take liberties with its use knowing it will not, and cannot, be challenged. It might be misleading, but so what?

Of course it’s still possible to see the words “home baked” and “home cooked”, particularly in independent pub restaurants. Indeed, when I was a pub operator I remember one cook producing ten homemade steak and kidney pies from her carrier bag ready for the lunchtime trade. That can’t be the case nowadays so what do pubs mean when they use this phrase?

I know operators that use words and phrases such as local food, family-run suppliers, traceable, sustainable, wild-caught, provenance et al and I absolutely believe them. I know and understand their brand values and appreciate how honesty and integrity are fundamental to all they do. They don’t use these words lightly and every word means something to them and, therefore, to their customers.

Fundamentally, I think customers want brands to be what they say they are and to do what they say they are going to do. They don’t want to find out their promises have been hollow and their brand loyalty abused. Every word a brand writes about itself should be genuine, considered and never taken lightly because someone, somewhere, at some point, might look a bit deeper. They need to choose their words wisely – they can’t rely on customers taking them for granted any more