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How F&B brands can stand out with sustainability

With such a keen consumer interest in the environment and sustainability, it’s no surprise that fears around greenwashing are also increasing, leading to consumers scrutinizing claims more closely. Here are 5 valuable tips that should be considered to win over increasingly skeptical and discerning consumers.

Consumers have increasingly higher sustainability standards. Globally, 66% of consumers say they consider sustainability when making a purchase—this rises to 75% for Millennials, according to data from the World Economic Forum. A staggering 71% rise has occurred in global online searches for sustainable goods over the last five years. Though this interest in ethical and sustainable consumption isn’t new, it has grown at an incredible pace in recent years.

The food and beverage industry has an important role to play at the heart of the sustainability movement. And consumers agree—FMCG Gurus 2021 research indicated 65% want food and nutrition brands to do more to protect the environment. This increased focus on the environment has been so dramatic that for the first time, the health of the planet is the top concern for consumers in 2022, overtaking the health of people. This could mean that consumers want food and beverage brands to mirror their own shifting priorities by focusing on planetary health first and foremost.

With such a keen consumer interest in the environment and sustainability, it’s no surprise that fears around greenwashing are also increasing, leading to consumers scrutinizing claims more closely. So, what can brands do to win over increasingly skeptical and discerning consumers?

Cut through confusion with climate champions

Sustainability standards vary between companies, industries and countries. For consumers, this creates a seemingly insurmountable challenge of figuring out who is actually making a positive environmental impact—and who is simply saying they are. To cut through this confusion and ensure clarity, brands should consider partnering with specialized sustainability organizations that offer in-depth and tailored guidance on what brands can claim. The backing of a trusted expert can even help brands appear more credible in the eyes of the consumer—83% are more likely to trust a product’s sustainability claim if it has been verified by a third party, noted nonprofit think tank Compare Ethics.

That’s why FrieslandCampina Ingredients recently partnered with ClimatePartner, an organization dedicated to helping brands operate more sustainably, to create the company's first-ever carbon-neutral infant formula base powder. ClimatePartner helped the brand achieve carbon neutrality through four steps; calculation of the ingredient’s carbon footprint, a commitment by FrieslandCampina to reduce a portion of the carbon footprint between now and 2025, offsetting the remainder of the emissions through ClimatePartner’s support of credibly certified sustainability initiatives across the globe, and transparent communication to consumers through ClimatePartner’s label and tracking systems.

As a result of this project, FrieslandCampina is aiming to lower the carbon emissions from its farms by 20% by 2025. This means that brands using these ingredients can not only benefit from a minimum of 85% carbon-neutral ingredients in their infant formula, but they can also demonstrate real-world impact by showing that they are supporting carbon-reduction projects.

Complete transparency includes the true cost of sustainability

Investing in more sustainable practices should be seen as an investment into a brand’s longevity. But companies can’t always absorb every cost and there can be some hesitation about passing these onto the consumer. Environmentally conscientious consumers, however, are often happy to pay a premium. In fact, found that one-third of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products, with U.K. consumers willing to pay an average of 25% more for greener alternatives of their current purchases.

One way brands can stand out from the crowd is by communicating the “true cost” of sustainability. For example, customers using the carbon-neutral infant base powder can explain to customers that their money is directly funding carbon reduction projects.

Though transforming the way companies operate to be more sustainable may cost more in the short term, customers may turn to brands that are taking actionable steps, which could benefit brands greatly in the long run.

Publish progress and measure meticulously

Brands should also ensure that any sustainability progress they have made is as transparent as possible so consumers can ensure claims are verified. Winning over even the most cautious consumers requires tangible and measured evidence that proves that companies are walking the walk. According to Mintel, consumers are actively looking for companies to compare their ethical initiatives with their actual progress, as noted in the firm’s 2022 Global Consumer Trends report (no longer accessible online). Accurate and meticulous publishing of sustainability progress can help brands gain the trust of increasingly skeptical consumers.

New technologies can help brands accurately share sustainability data by measuring their progress and offering a connected view across the whole supply chain. FrieslandCampina Ingredients measures everything from its energy consumption to biodiversity of farms, using real-time data and an innovative biodiversity monitor. Not only do these pioneering technologies help the company's factories and farmers to operate in a more sustainable way, but they also allow it to communicate the exact actions being taken so that brand partners can be sure they are providing their consumers with sustainable, data-backed products.

Honesty is the best policy

The only one real way to overcome consumer skepticism is honesty. If a brand wants its customers to believe in its sustainability goals, they must be able to trust what the company is saying. Honesty, however, goes beyond providing accurate information about what is already happening. As consumers become more environmentally aware, they’re increasingly skeptical of brands that only talk about the good they are doing. A 2020 GlobalWebIndex survey of internet users suggested that as many as 29% of consumers believe that bold sustainability claims are farfetched.

To inspire trust, brands must speak honestly about what more they need to do. By being open about the gaps in one’s sustainability offering—as well as the steps being taken—a brand can demonstrate to consumers that its environmental goals are more than just words. In fact, 71% would even pay more for products from companies that provide full transparency, per IBM’s Institute for Business Value.

The future of sustainability messaging

Climate concern has gone beyond a consumer trend; it’s fast becoming a core expectation. It’s no longer enough for brands to simply state their sustainability goals. Acquiring and retaining the trust of skeptical consumers requires hard evidence and honest, transparent communication. This is unlikely to waiver anytime soon.

By collaborating with experts who can help brands back their environmental claims, communicating the true cost of sustainability, and enabling an open and honest dialogue on progress, brands can earn the trust and loyalty of their customers while also helping to secure a healthy and sustainable future for all.

Els Zeeuwen leads the global communications function at FrieslandCampina Ingredients and previously worked on the company’s organisational transformation, including strategy, rebranding and structure redesign. Zeeuwen strongly believes in the Power of We; collaboration where everyone can bring their best self to work leads to better results. She is happiest when combining strategic insights, vision and strong executional power for good causes and spearheads various sustainability initiatives at FrieslandCampina Ingredients. Zeeuwen is deeply passionate about all aspects of environmental and social sustainability. She is also chair of the board at a charitable foundation offering 24/7 shelter and personal care for undocumented women in Amsterdam.

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