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How can companies communicate sustainability to consumers?

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Stef Bottinelli contributor: FMCG Gurus

Hear from three experts in the food and drink indudstry, who, in our February 2021 careers event ‘Nutrition & Communication’  answered one of the students live questions: How do you communicate sustainability to consumers?

Gareth Jones, Kalsec Inc.:

How do you communicate sustainability to consumers?

Well, we’d be part of a bigger association. As an industry, you almost need to define a set of standards because one company on its own – unless you’re Nestle or Heineken – is going to struggle to get a consistent standard across of consistent sustainability. So I think for me, how to communicate to consumers is to be banded together as an industry and say, these are the standards that we’re going to aim to aspire to. We’re going to keep challenging ourselves and keep pushing ourselves.

And once we’ve got that, then we keep going on and on and on, because that’s going to be the only way. This is not going to be an end point. This is going to be a journey to continue to be sustainable, to be more environmentally sustainable. I was reading this week (that) if food and drink were a country, it would have the third largest carbon emission on the planet. We shouldn’t waste so much food. So it’s going to need a big push across the whole industry, not just one individual company.

Dawn Guay, Univar Solutions:

There’s something also to be said about marketing and content, and what I would call story-based marketing. We’re starting to see that more and more, even the small startup companies are using purpose-led imagery and purpose-led narratives. I think the more that becomes the norm, this idea of how to communicate sustainability message to customers becomes part of the brand. It’s not just a question of ‘this is what we adhere to do’ and (the message) it’s on the website. It’s actually on the packaging. There’s a whole lifestyle element that becomes connected within. Mike, I think you’ve seen that in your research as well, correct?

Mike Hughes, FMCG Gurus:

Yeah, I mean, but, one thing is sustainability. I completely agree with Gareth with a kind of Kaizen (Japanese for ‘continuous improvement’) approach, continuously challenge yourself. But I think one thing that’s actually really important as well is brand identity.  I remember one of the books where I first read this. It’s a really, really interesting book on the topic of this is called The Tipping Point (by Malcom Gladwell) about how thought leaders can influence people more than others. And this was way before social media and influencers. And if you look at a brand called BrewDog, for example, in the UK – the Scottish beer company – they’re a brand that positioned themselves as very cool, very fun (level, ed). And they actually kind of share similar values to Innocent Smoothies. And I would say both of the two brands in recent years have positioned themselves as kind of like some of the leaders in sustainability and make a difference in a number of ways.

They position themselves as small, when they’re actually not small at all. So, you know, Innocent is owned by Coca Cola. Brewdog is one of the leading beer brands in the UK and is now a global chain, so it’s anything but a craft beer, but they promote themselves as independent and I think anti-corporate as well. By doing this whole anti-corporate thing, they move away from all this kind of information about recycling processes that some people might – being brutally honest when we’re talking about the everyday consumer – find a little bit boring and switch off. So instead, they’ve kind of made acting environmentally friendly fun and aspirational, you know, ‘I’m being sustainable!’. It’s cool.  it’s a form of self-expression and I think that’s kind of what more and more brands are doing. They’re not just going, okay, here’s a website where we’ve got a load of information – which is basically covering ourselves and we’ve got all these quality standards, which is absolutely great – but the average person won’t understand what the forest stewardship council is.

Instead they go: ‘We’re just like you, we’re individuals too. We’ve got a history, we’ve got a heritage behind us. We have got these beliefs. Even though we are big corporate companies, we’re not going to act like big corporate companies’ and that’s filtered through their marketing, their packaging, through sometimes being potentially controversial. Every trend you can take inspiration from another trend. And you know, when you look at protein and you go, why is protein so popular when (other) ingredients aren’t? Well, the reason is because it’s not seen as just something you need to have in your diet. It’s actually seen as fun. This is cool. This is exciting. And again, I think that’s something that these brands that promote sustainability do incredibly well.