Public Health England recently released its latest data on childhood obesity, with a third of children being obese or overweight when they leave primary school. An appalling figure.

Food brands have been pitted as the biggest culprits when it comes to the UK’s obesity crisis.

Jamie Oliver is championing the push for a sugar tax and calling for “junk food” ads on TV to be banned before 9pm. The government is upping the ante as well, with a Childhood Obesity Strategy set to be released in January 2016.

Before moving over to the UK, I was part of the PR team for KFC in Australia where we faced many of the same issues. KFC had voluntarily signed up to an initiative to stop creating any advertising or marketing targeted at children, and they removed kids’ toys from their kids’ menu. So global food brands like KFC have already dealt with these regulatory issues in other markets. They know what’s coming. Greater scrutiny is on the way, if not already here. Now, more than ever, a solid reputation is needed to defend against increasingly loud critics.

Leadership gurus, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones recently talked about the need for businesses to adopt ‘radical honesty’. They argue that in a world when freedom of information and social media have transformed what it means to be truly transparent, it pays for companies to be candid with their employees and stakeholders – more so than it does to try and cover something up that will eventually come to light anyhow.
But this is only one part of the reputation management challenge. The old maxim about reputation being based on what you do, not just what you say, rings as true now as ever.

And with many fast food brands being franchised, perhaps now is the time for brands to step back and take a fresh look at the terms of franchise agreements. In this customer age of reputation, if brands are going to be held to account for their actions, do the formal frameworks with the franchisee help or hinder this? Agreement on the content and strategy of marketing and contributions to its spend all play their part, but is that sufficient? FMCG brands that are not franchised are increasingly taking a more holistic view to the creation and protection of their value – one that transcends traditional perceptions of marketing boundaries. Is it time for franchised brands to follow suit?

Food brands have a tough road ahead, more so than many other industries because of the prevalence of the franchise model. A transformation needs to happen, both in terms of action and engagement. It first needs to start within before it can be credible in the outside world.

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