The ban on energy drinks

A triumph for the voice of the consumer, or a knee jerk reaction by brands to a loud minority?
Alice Kounougakis

March 14, 2018

On 5th January, Jamie Oliver launched a campaign to ban the sale of energy drinks to children. His argument was compelling; a 500ml can contains 12 teaspoons of sugar and as much caffeine as 2 shots of espresso, and yet these drinks were readily available for children to buy without restriction.  

The fact that 69% of 10-18 year olds in the UK were doing so only helped to increase concerns about the impact of energy drinks on their health and behaviour.

Oliver urged consumers to support the cause by joining him in putting pressure on the government with the aim of changing legislation.

The campaign rapidly gained traction. Within a week the issue was being debated in parliament, and supermarkets quickly took action, choosing of their own accord to restrict the sale of energy drinks to children. By 5th March, Boots had joined all major UK supermarkets in the voluntary ban.  Within 2 months, and without any legislation, children’s access to energy drinks had been severely restricted as a result of Jamie Oliver’s call to action. A triumph for the voice of the consumer it would seem.  

But is this really an issue the UK consumer cares about, or has it been blown out of proportion and forced onto brands by a small minority shouting loudly and repeatedly on Twitter?

A recent Morar HPI poll of 1,000 UK adults tells us that 79% agree with the ban. Jamie Oliver was onto something, and the supermarkets have done something that the majority of their customers are likely to agree with.

However, consumers are more divided on whether the supermarkets should have been quite so reactive to a Twitter campaign. 43% say the supermarkets wouldn’t have acted without the attention of this campaign and believe Twitter has given a much-needed voice to consumers. On the other hand, a third believe supermarkets should be left to make their own decisions about store policies and should not feel backed into a corner.

This highlights an important point about how brands access the real voice of the consumer, and how they ensure their decisions are based on what’s best for all customers, not just a vocal few. Twitter can be a fantastic tool for gauging sentiment and tapping into the mood of the nation, but under 1 in 5 UK adults are even on Twitter, and even fewer are using it to talk about brands. In fact, despite Jamie Oliver’s fame, influence, and over 7 million Twitter followers, his original impassioned tweet to Jeremy Hunt, urging him to “put age restrictions on the sale of energy drinks to under 16s” yielded only 1,500 likes. And Morar HPI’s social media tracking indicates that, following an initial spike in mentions of the campaign’s hashtag #notforchildren on the 5th January, the conversation had petered out to under 100 daily mentions within a couple of days.

It requires a system that is wider reaching, more inclusive, and, arguably, less emotive for brands to find out what really matters to all their customers and potential customers. Only then can they avoid falling into the trap of believing the few are accurately representing the many.

At Morar HPI we design solutions that enable clients to access the true voice of the consumer. The result is confident decision-making based on reliable and accurate insights rather than knee jerk reactions in response to a loud, but unrepresentative minority.

Morar HPI Limited is part of MIG Global and part of the Next15 Group.

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