How Green Is Your Brand And Does Anyone Care?
I read a report last year about consumer attitudes in America. It was largely around the clothing industry but a lot of its findings were interesting for food and drink businesses too. Consumers were asked to put in order their priorities when choosing clothing. Not surprisingly 98% said the most important factor for them was fit, closely followed by comfort then price, quality and durability. Only 50% listed environmental friendliness as a factor.
The study delved a little deeper and found some contradictory attitudes. Just 38% said they put any effort into finding environmentally friendly clothing yet 69% claimed they’d be concerned if they discovered something they bought wasn’t environmentally friendly. The inference is clear; consumers expect their brands to do this for them.
This rings true with our experience of the food and drink industry too.
The levels of this expectation need to be considered though. Back in the year 2000 I was working closely with a national grocery retailer. Organic food was getting a lot of coverage at the time and the Iceland chain (the shop, not the country) announced they were buying over 40% of the world’s organic vegetables and would only be selling organic vegetables from now on. This created a lot of publicity for them, and from a marketing perspective we were concerned for our client. But our client wasn’t. In their opinion Iceland had misread public opinion and were going to destroy their margins and harm their business. Our client was right. Within the year Iceland changed their policy back.
Yet, some 17 years later organic has gone from strength to strength and consumer knowledge regarding the provenance and background of food has never been higher. What Iceland did wrong back then was focus too much on the organic story and not enough on the other stories like price, quality or taste, the ones that matter most to consumers. It wasn’t that consumers weren’t interested it just wasn’t their top priority.
This is where food and drink brands need to be careful. What consumers desire most from their brands is honesty. If you say your product is organic then it better be organic. If you say your product is hand-reared only on one south-facing hillside in Wales, that that better be the case. The day you break the bond of trust you have with your consumers is the day your brand starts to die.
Being ‘green’ is important to your consumer, but only if you tell the consumer it’s important to you. There is an expectation today that all manufacturers and brands meet certain levels of environmental concern. How accurate those expectations are will vary from consumer to consumer and from brand to brand. If your brand has a particularly strong environmental story to tell, then from a marketing perspective, you should use it but not at the exclusion of all other messages. And woe betide you if that story turns out not to be 100% accurate.
Consumer attitudes to the environment are still mixed. This TNS Global survey shines some light on consumer attitudes across Europe. Among a small but significant percentage of the population there remains scepticism towards environmental issues and the claims made by some brands. Also consumer behaviour shows us that price, taste and quality remain more important than any other factor, indeed many environmentally friendly products are viewed as expensive or of poorer quality than competitor brands. In some consumers minds ‘going green’ means losing quality and taste. But despite this the majority of consumers are concerned about the environment and want to believe they are ‘doing their bit’ to help it. This is where brands can help. Have a ‘green’ story, just don’t make it your only story.
It is our opinion than provenance and back-story are only going to grow in importance for food and drink brands. The internet allows us to tell longer, more involved stories, to share messages we couldn’t before and to provide insights into our brands previously only available to those close to them. But remember the internet also allows your consumers to check the veracity of those stories.
Whatever your food or drink brand is, it has a story. You might be telling it well currently or you might not be telling it at all yet. Whatever it is though, be honest about it, consumers demand that more than anything else.