Beware brand extension

By Ian Marber, September 13, 2012

In the age of the savvy consumer, brands offer a shorthand way of knowing what you are buying. Familiarity allows us to make a quick decision to purchase based on what we understand about the brand’s values, such as quality, consistency, provenance or history.
Whatever it might be, the brand owners know this and understandably use it to their advantage. This is often through brand extension, when a manufacturer creates a new product and allows its existing, popular brand effectively to approve of it.
Food companies do this a lot. Innocent for example, is known for its smoothies and used them to lend instant credibility to its new range of ready-meals.
But when it comes to health, brand extension isn’t always quite so clear. This is typified by the explosion in the number of cereal bars that crowd the shelves of every type of food shop, from supermarket to corner store.
Those based on well-known breakfast cereals are the ones that concern me. In some cases, the brand owners have relied on the power of the original product to divert attention away from the properties of the new one. One of the best known is based on a low-calorie breakfast cereal. The original does what it says on the pack, but the extended family includes other cereals and snacks that might well be low in calorie, but contain 36g of sugar per 100g. Not quite so healthy perhaps, but when blessed with the power of the original brand, it has shelf appeal.
Or how about the juice brand with one champion product? Its makers align lesser derivatives alongside it to take advantage of the original products’ well-deserved healthy aura.
In these days of easy food and powerful brands, you might want to think about the food products you favour, and ask yourself if they deserve your loyalty, or have you been taken in by expert brand extension.
Check the labels — look for carbohydrate content, sugar content, list of ingredients etc — and if it doesn’t feel right, put it back on the shelf. It’s the only way to let brand owners know that you want the qualities that went with the original product, and that brand extension isn’t always welcome.

Ian Marber is one of the UK’s most highly regarded nutrition experts and the author of 11 books.

Last updated: 10:03am, September 13 2012