Communicating Sustainability to the Consumer

3punditFinal In today, Ali Hart discusses some consumer research around sustainability. It reveals that consumers' affinity for sustainability is largely a game of matching the relevant information with the appropriate demographic. This research also reveals that consumers weigh the food and beverage category heavily in their quest for sustainability, and they favor local food over big business.  One Dole executive explains the importance of telling a story by giving a face to their food and connecting farmers with consumers. He says the soil conservation that Dole practices would not play as well with the public. Another way to boost support and communication for sustaibility is online. Virtually, sustainability can communicated and celebrated via social media (the article sites Farmville's immense popularity on Facebook), but the exact formula of "how" or what formula is the best still stumps many businesses walking the sustainability walk. 

Posted August 16, 2010

By Ali Hart, Triple Pundit

What good are sustainability efforts if the consumer doesn’t
understand them? Consumers are driving demand for a sustainable food
system, so communicating with this stakeholder group is key to the
long-term viability of triple bottom-line products. With such an array
of sustainability indicators, companies must impart those most relevant
to the consumer to effectively inform purchasing decisions. Likewise,
companies must engage these conscious consumers in meaningful dialogues
around this information.

Sustainable Agricultural Partnerships 2010
, presenters shared
consumer research exposing what matters most to the target demographic.
Multiple sources revealed that customers purchasing fresh produce deem
“pesticide-free” a top concern, with organic falling significantly lower
on the list of importance. Research also uncovered that for conscious
consumers: the food and beverage category is one of the most important;
buying local is important to support local farmers; and there is
cynicism that big business can be truly sustainable. Information like
this has fueled successful campaigns and efforts for myriad companies in
this space.

As one Dole exec put it, soil conservation is a sustainability focus
for the company, but is communicating that mission to consumers
effective? Rather than bombarding customers with information on all
sustainability efforts – including those that may not be relevant to
them – the company sought more meaningful engagement. Dole Organic’s
banana tracking system tries to give a human face to the multi-national
corporation by connecting consumers with farmers, an accessibility
feature often enjoyed by smaller companies like Burgerville. Burgerville showcases
its commitment to locally sourced ingredients by hosting events in which
partner farmers visit the chain’s restaurants and interact with
customers. Because the local movement is an emotional one, the ability
to physically (rather than virtually) shake the hand of the person who
grew your food is especially powerful.

But this is not to say that power doesn’t exist in the virtual world.
There are 30 million farms in FarmVille, an enormously popular Facebook
game from Zynga, and only 2 million farms in the U.S. The success of
this application further proves the public’s affinity for farms and
food. In July, Cascadian Farms’ organic blueberries became the first
in-game branded crop available in the FarmVille Market. On the first day
of the campaign, players purchased more than one million crops. This
phenomenon is evidence that, as Andrew Arnold of SureHarvest declared,
“the wired consumer is a powerful consumer.”

While it is easy to proclaim that meaningful engagement and targeted
information are the necessary ingredients for successful campaigns, the
question of “how” still poses problems for many marketers. Assuming
you’re a conscious consumer, which campaigns for sustainable products
have influenced your behavior and why?

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