Cause marketing becoming a larger component of innovation

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY — Whether you had the opportunity to walk the exhibit floor of the ISM sweets and snacks exposition in Cologne, Germany, or visit the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in late January, there is one trend that could not be avoided – The prevalence of cause marketing in new food and beverage product introductions.

Consumers no longer want to feel good when they consume a product. They also want to feel good about the product and the company that produced it.

Phil Lempert, the chief executive officer of and the Lempert Report, summed the trend up on Jan. 28 during a presentation at the International Dairy Foods Association’s annual Dairy Forum, which took place in Palm Springs, Calif.

“Cause marketing is becoming more important — Especially as we see more natural disasters,” he said. “People want to do business with people who care about each other, because we are all in this together. We’ve seen this trend rise since 9/11. Those who take care of communities are rewarded with sales.”

Food and beverage companies have always practiced social responsibility, whether it is through hunger relief, disaster aid, local community involvement or environmental stewardship. But the trend we are seeing today is extending beyond individual companies to product lines and brands.

Sustainably produced confectionery was a key trend at this year’s ISM tradeshow. Fair Trade and responsibly sourced were components of many new product introductions, and the market research firm Innova Market Insights noted that one of the top trends in the confectionery category is ethical business practices, especially in the chocolate segment where new product activity positioned on an ethical platform continues to experience growth.

At the Winter Fancy Food Show, some brands went even further. Carrington Co. L.L.C., Closter, N.J., offered tea products in “eco-friendly” packaging that is guaranteed to “fully and safely” biodegrade when composted. The packaging is a component of the company’s stated goal of producing “healthy food for a healthy soul.”

The Endangered Species Chocolate company invited visitors to “indulge in a cause.” The company donates 10% of its net profits annually to environmental non-profits that are focused on wildlife conservation and habitat preservation worldwide.

And the Ethnical Bean Coffee company, Vancouver, British Columbia, offers customers the opportunity to “follow your coffee from crop to cup.” Through a downloadable app, customers are able to track where the bag of coffee they purchased was sourced and distributed.

An interest in brand differentiation by tapping into the issues consumers care about is propelling the trend of cause marketing. If implemented correctly such programs have the potential to lift a product and a brand “above the fray” in a competitive category. The challenge facing companies is execution. In this day of instant communication and social media, missteps and a lack of follow through have the potential to undo the benefits of good intentions.
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