Plain packaging on food and drink isn’t the answer

Plain packaging on alcohol and fatty foods would make a very dull trip to the supermarket.

Plain packaging on alcohol and fatty foods would make a very dull trip to the supermarket.

Plain packaging on alcohol and fatty foods would make a very dull trip to the supermarket, says brand consultant RON CREGAN.

If you fancy a civil servant or government minster stocking your larder shelves with indefinable labels, you may not have long to wait. With Brexit looming and a bill passed last week in Ireland, stark health warnings over your bottle of claret may soon be a reality. The health lobbyists, spurred on by the plain packaging ban on tobacco are raising the warning volumes to sugar, alcohol and products containing fats and if Public Health England have their way, soon we could be facing a very dull trip around the supermarket. Packaging of one colour, one font and messages promoting stark health warnings.

Design, politics and culture have long since been linked and never more so than today, with the consequences of Brexit posing serious implications for brand finance and our British creative industries who are predicted to lose a staggering sum if plans for plain packaging are mandated. Alcohol, sugar, fast food and other products are now required to carry health warnings, and it is feared that drinks brands in particular are most vulnerable to the threat of labelling censorship, already carried out on tobacco, with eight leading brand owners alone facing losses over time of $187 billion.

Nobody can really argue that education about health or reminders that too much of anything is likely to be a bad thing. But where do we draw the line and is plain packaging or at best packaging that is 50% warning the answer? What is wrong with us, as individuals, choosing one brand over another as we have always done? After all brands are all about choice and emotion.

We are editors of the brands that we enjoy, individually selecting one product over another. But the debate must start around how brands can retain their identity and the ability to delight and engage whilst keep consumers properly informed before it is too late. The British creative industries have always challenged perceptions, now we need to generate new ideas and push them forward. But speaking of which, brand owners, are likely to be reluctant to engage in any discussion around labeling and legislation and who can blame them?

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Being the first to stick your head above this parapet is an invitation to be criticised and shot down. But creative courage underpins almost everything and it is badly needed now to unpick this unravelling issue. In a creative sense, London has always been at the forefront of courageous thinking and design and we need that caretive courage badly now to both educate and innovate and to save the integrity of brands who will suffer if this legislation gathers momentum.

The campaign group Endangered Species has started the debate at Makerversity to challenge and debate the issues and threats that loom, not only for brands, for IP rights, but for our right, as individuals to choose.

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Without this debate there is a real danger to Britain's creative community, to the value of brands in the form of IP and to us as individuals to make decisions about the products we favour.

Plain packaging does not seem to be the answer. Perhaps the answer lies in better education to build trust and judgement. Interesting topics in politics.

• Ron Cregan is a brand consultant and has worked globally in the spirits industry with Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Marie Brizard on innovation and brand development. He has also worked with luxury retail and destination brands such as Mulberry, Claridge's and Porto Montenegro.

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