Consumers of health food shuddered in September when Annie’s Homegrown sold to General Mills, joining the ranks of other health brands who have been bought out by larger corporations.  Those marketing health food may ask why.

When trusted health brands are acquired by larger distrusted corporations, consumers struggle to believe that the integrity of the product they love will remain. So how can both the corporation and the health food company maintain the trust of their loyal consumer?

1. Address the concerns of the consumer head on

Ignoring the problem won’t make the consumer forget. The consumer may feel betrayed by their healthy food brand. Their concerns need to be addressed immediately and consistently. When Clorox bought out Burt’s Bees for $193 million in 2007, the chief executive of Burt’s Bees personally called consumers who had contacted them with concerns.

Both the corporation and the health food company should make PR efforts to communicate honestly with the consumer. Many brands have utilized social media to create a conversation with the consumer that makes them feel heard. And that goes a long way.

2. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it

One of the greatest concerns that consumers have is that the product they love will change. This concern isn’t without reason. General Mills also purchased Cascadian Farms back in 1999, when Cascadian Farms cereals was famous for having “no added sugar.”

In 2009, a consumer noticed that one of their cereals had tripled its sugar. Complaints arose from consumers eventually forcing the company to stop adding sugar, returning the product to its original state. However, this created a huge rift in the trust between the consumer and General Mills.

Obviously, if Annie’s is worth purchasing, they must be doing something right. Corporations should tread carefully when considering making changes to a beloved product or risk facing backlash from their consumers.  If not, marketing health food will be a nightmare.

General Mills made a statement after acquiring Annie’s Homegrown that they intend to allow them to have relative autonomy. General Mills CEO stated, “We’ve learned a tremendous amount from these various natural and organic companies we have acquired and we have been very good about leaving them alone, letting them do their thing.”

3. Keep it transparent

Consumers fear corporations will make “subtle ingredient changes that would slowly de-healthify its natural and organic brands to save money.” Very often, these companies don’t address these changes or are even able to hide them behind the loose standards of food labeling, particularly when using word like “Natural”, which has no exact definition developed by the FDA.

Brands would be wise to keep it real. The more open and honest a brand is with their consumer, the more loyalty they can expect in return.

So to the corporations who are wise enough to recognize the power of smaller healthy food, be wise enough to take the proper steps to nourish the trust of the loyal consumers who will sustain you and help you grow.  Marketing health food doesn’t have to be a corporate takeover.