Food packaging is a specific marketing technique that is part of the broader marketing mix. How a product looks and what promotions and affiliations it may have are important determinants in consumer’s decision-making processes and may significantly influence intention to purchase.
Branding, bright colour palettes, cartoon characters, celebrity or athlete endorsements and other commercial assets such as sports competitions, club logos or crests are all designed to maximise appeal to the consumer, or perhaps a consumer’s children, with evidence demonstrating that packaging influences product preferences of children and young people.
By linking themselves to high profile sports stars (players, legends and managers), plus the brand assets of clubs, leagues and competitions on food packaging, these companies are attempting to associate their brands with a healthy and active lifestyle, thereby minimising public scrutiny of the nutritional value of junk food and soft drinks.
Many of these affiliations also include some form of incentivisation to purchase, including competitions where consumers have a chance of winning tickets, stadium tours, VIP experiences with players and legends as well as official match balls and club jerseys. We feel it is particularly invidious when the packaging for HFSS products are deliberately associated with ‘grassroots’ amateur and junior sports through imagery, competitions and ‘social responsibility’ campaigns.
We list a series of case studies below to illustrate the widespread nature and magnitude of sports-related promotions on food packaging:
Initially partnered directly with the Premier League for three years, concluding at the end of 2019/20, Cadbury has leveraged topflight football to promote its Match and Win promotion. This involves consumers purchasing various Cadbury chocolate products to enter prize draws to win club merchandise and tickets to Premier League matches.
At time of writing (21/10/2020), Cadbury has developed partnerships directly with the so-called ‘Big Six’ which includes Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and current champions Liverpool. The club crests of the club logos now feature on Cadbury food packaging generating significant appeal in high-sugar products and tempting supporters and the public at large with football-themed prizes.
Limited edition bars were also available to purchase from the LFC club store for £2.50 – much more expensive than standard equivalents – see image.
Cadbury are also partnered with Leeds United, Sheffield United, Notts County and, Birmingham City and we anticipate further partnerships to be signed in the winter months with additional clubs which may lead to more club-specific merchandising of Cadbury products.
Coca Cola is currently a partner of the Premier League and many of their multi-pack products have featured Premier league giveaways. The most recent promotion (ending 15/11/2020) is giving fans the chance to win thousands of football shirts to mark the beginning of the 2020/21 Premier League season.
The on-pack promotion rolled out on 10th August 2020 across nearly 300 million take-home packs of Coca-Cola original and Coca-Cola zero sugar.
It was supported by a multi-million pound consumer marketing campaign which includes radio, digital activity, out-of-home advertising, a partnership with Sky, and point-of-sale materials.
Through on-pack codes, consumers are able to enter an online prize draw with every purchase to be in with a chance of winning a range of prizes. The promotion is tapping into fans being forced to watch football from their homes due to stadia being closed to spectators and many pubs and bars being shut due to tier 3 COVID-19 restrictions.
Sponsors of the UEFA Champions League, PepsiCo continues to leverage the power of European football to sell products in the UK and across the continent. This deal allows PepsiCo brands including Pepsi, Walkers/Lays and Gatorade products to utilise the UEFA Champions League branding and high-profile players to promote HFSS products on its packaging.
The most recent set of football-themed Pepsi marketing has featuring the likes of global sports icons such as Lionel Messi, Mo Salah, Paul Pogba and Raheem Sterling on bottle and can packaging, part of a wider marketing mix.
The number one dairy brand in the UK, Müller has launched its first ever fat free SKYR yogurt, Müllerlight SKYR, supported by a new marketing and on pack campaign starring World Champion Heptathlete and Müllerlight brand ambassador, Katarina Johnson-Thompson.
Müller is partnered with UK Athletics, sponsoring various competitions. Similar to Coca-Cola, the presence of ‘Müller’ in their low-fat / low-sugar ranges also promotes their parent brand and therefore other Müller products that have higher fat and sugar content.
The well-loved biscuit brand, which has almost 180 years of British heritage making products such as McVitie’s Digestives, Hobnobs and Jaffa Cakes, signed a partnership with Team GB until the end of 2020 to coincide with the now cancelled Olympic Games.
The biscuit manufacturer embraced the irony of sponsoring elite sport in some of its messaging describing the partnerships, in their own words, as “slightly awkward”.
The partnership was activated through consumer promotional activities (food packaging), retail partnerships and internal colleague programmes.
Team GB said the partnership with McVitie’s “allows the organisation to fund its objective of taking athletes and sports to the summer and winter editions of the Olympic Games”. Whilst promoting a high fat and high sugar product to 22 million households.
The energy drink manufacturers first foray into professional football consisted of partnering with no less than eight Premier League clubs at the start of the 2019/20 season. It is believed that these partnerships afforded Monster with branding on perimeter LED advertising boards inside club stadia and exposure across each team’s digital channels.
The teams included: Brighton and Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Everton, Leicester City, Southampton, Tottenham Hostpur, Watford and West Ham United.
However given that player likenesses or club logos have not appeared on Monster Energy products, we can assume these were not part of these deals. This did not stop Monster featuring generic footballers on their HydroSport drinks.
One of the main issues with this type of packaging is that although Monster’s HydroSport products may not be classified as HFSS, an association is formed between Monster products and improved performance in sport, which may risk children and young people consuming Monster Energy which is high in sugar and caffeine.
Lucozade Sport has a long history of using sports personalities to market their products including Daley Thompson, John Barnes, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harry Kane.
Most recently, Lucozade Sport has used heavyweight boxing champion, Anthony Joshua, Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling and Lionesses Nikita Parris and Steph Houghton.
The diversification of sports starts in terms of including athletes from different sports, athletes from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds and female athletes on packaging represents an attempt to appeal to a broader range of demographics to grow their business. In particular the move to support women’s football, given it’s recent rise in popularity, could be viewed as an attempt to jump on the bandwagon.
Whilst holding no formal partnerships with football or sports organisation to our knowledge, Pringles regularly piggy-backs on international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup to help sell their products – this is a form of ‘ambush’ marketing.
Pringles packaging features loose associations with recreational football presenting giveaways such as footballs and pop-up goals, ideal for children and young people, when multiple products are purchased.