The next big growth driver: social consciousness?

by Monica Watrous
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ANAHEIM, CALIF. — The next big growth driver for food companies may not be an ingredient or flavor, but rather a social cause.

“Mission is driving growth for companies; that’s where we’re seeing change,” said Connor Link, senior editor of New Hope Natural Media, during a presentation at Natural Products Expo West, held March 7-9 in Anaheim, Calif. “The integration of social mission and consciousness into your business model is really what’s going to drive consumer interaction with your products more than the idea that they’re healthier or better for you.”

Demand for transparency has extended beyond a product’s ingredient label. Today, more consumers also are concerned with a company’s practices and values. Establishing brand loyalty, especially among what New Hope identified as a growing consumer segment of fickle, fad-focused shoppers, may lie in fostering a social connection based on shared values.

“Integration of social beliefs to your very brand is a powerful proposition for your company,” Mr. Link said.

Startups and giants alike have begun committing to environmental and ethical goals. Some food makers donate directly to food banks or support an organization with a portion of product sales. Many brands at Expo West not only displayed new product innovation, but also programs and initiatives related to creating a positive social impact.

Yumbutter, a maker of almond and peanut butter blends, funneled more than 4% of its revenues in 2012 to support various social causes, including its buy-one-feed-one program through a partnership with Primeros Pasos, a non-profit in Guatemala. Since mid-2012, Yumbutter has provided more than 14,000 feedings to children with malnutrition. The company also sources organic and local ingredients through an increasingly ethical supply chain.

In addition to its buy-one-feed-one business model, Yumbutter provides jobs for people with disabilities through a partnership with the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.

 

Taking a similar approach, 2 Degrees Food provides a nutrition pack to a hungry child in Africa with every nutrition bar purchased. With a mission to feed 200 million children, the company sells gluten-free, vegan snack bars on-line and at Whole Foods Market locations nationwide.

Cascadian Farm, a brand of General Mills’ Small Planet Foods division, recently unveiled a new cereal box liner made from renewable plant sources. Muir Glen, another Small Planet Foods business, has launched a large-scale composting operation with its independent organic farmers to convert tomato-processing waste into nutrient-rich soil. The brand is planning messaging related to the initiative to educate consumers on composting at home.

To improve its environmental impact, Muir Glen is partnering with a non-profit conservation group to improve and preserve pollinator habitats in its tomato-growing region.

 

Endangered Species Chocolate supports its “indulge with a cause” mission statement with the donation of 10% of net profits to organizations that support species, habitat and humanity. Additionally, the company buys its cacao from small family-owned properties and uses a 100% wind-powered production facility.

Endangered Species Chocolate donates 10% of profits to organizations that support species conservation, habitat preservation and humanitarian efforts.

 

Sambazon, a beverage maker, is so dedicated to its cause of supporting the environmental and social well-being of the Brazilian Amazon that the company spells it out in its name, short for Sustainable Management of the Brazilian Amazon. The company harvests and ethically sources ingredients, including acai, guarana, acerola cherry and yerba mate, from the region.

“If you’re interacting with a brand and not just consuming but contributing, that’s far more powerful than any health claim on the product,” Mr. Link said.
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