The government flip-flopping over implementation of HFSS (High Fat Salt + Sugar) regulations has left the ‘junk food industry’, (let’s call it what people understand), dazed and confused over what regulations will be implemented and when.

Many businesses, especially convenience stores & supermarkets, have made considerable investments in re-setting store layouts and trying to understand the business impact –probably considerable for some food categories. Not to mention the many food brands that are busy reformulating and creating new products to meet the tough HFSS scoring criteria.

HFSS casts a wide net & catches many ‘junk food’ categories including sugary drinks, savoury snacks, breakfast cereals, confectionary, ice cream, cakes, biscuits, desserts, yoghurt, pizza, chips, ready meals & sandwich’s… So it’s a big deal for many companies and impacts most people.

Obesity has a huge impact on developed western economies. In the UK and US, 28% and 36% of the population is obese, racking up huge health bill’s - £58 billion and $173 Billion respectively. For context, the UK spends less than £50 billion on defence.

Many voices have extolled the pro’s and cons regulation. Some say they will have zero impact on the obesity crisis, others believe it’s an important step.  One, anonymous, ‘senior ad exec’ says: “It’s a stupid, dumb, idiotic, pointless waste of effort and I hate this stupid government for sticking its nose in where it shouldn’t be.”

Companies, like Urban Legend Donuts, are now presenting themselves as part of the solution

Orson Welles once said, ‘out of limitation, comes great creativity’…

We hear so many brands & marketers talking about purpose, social responsibility & ‘doing the right thing”. So here is the perfect opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. The advertising, promo & placement ban may NOT solve the issue but, surely, all these brands want to be on the right side of history when it comes to obesity?!

Regardless of the underlying causes, we can, at least, agree that calories in the form of highly processed fat & sugar play a significant role. The factors that drive people to eat an obesity causing diet are complex but big brands have a platform to stimulate this conversation and play a role in helping all people (young & old) understand the choices for a healthy diet & lifestyle.

It may be counter intuitive for brands built on casual snacking, but ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, and we should challenge all ‘junk food’ brands to take a careful look in the mirror and use their deep pockets to reinvent themselves as part of the solution. Some smaller challenger brands such as Urban Legend Donuts, are setting the pace – good for them!

Apart from innovative formulations & new products, there are plenty worthwhile initiatives for brands to embrace; like ‘the daily mile’ which gets school kids to run a mile each day before school & many pundits, Jamie Oliver springs to mind, who will be delighted to champion your creativity!

Ian will be writing a column for MAD//Insight regularly throughout the year.