Many companies have begun to implement sustainability initiatives to appeal to today's shoppers, and Unilever is one business at the forefront of that charge.
Unilever subsidiary Ben & Jerry's new CEO Matthew McCarthy, a food business veteran of Unilever, plans to amplify the brand's environmental sustainability and social advocacy focus, while promoting its ice cream flavors. At Unilever, McCarthy led an initiative to transition Hellmann's mayonnaise to 100% cage-free eggs and launched Unilever's first organic snack brand in the U.S., Growing Roots. He also led the company's 2017 acquisition of Sir Kensington's, reports The Wall Street Journal(Aug. 15).
McCarthy notes the importance of brand integrity to today's consumers, saying "Many people are feeling a tremendous lack of trust in [public] institutions around them. We need organizations, including businesses, to step forward more than ever." Over the next few months, the company will unveil new initiatives and has new product plans in the works.
These steps aren't Unilever's first foray into sustainability, either. The company was part of a group of food businesses that launched the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance in July, which is "focused on driving progress in public policies that shape what people eat and how it impacts their health, communities, and the planet." The four founding companies, which include Danone North America, Mars Inc. and Nestle USA, will focus on five areas of public policy advocacy and action: consumer transparency, environment, food safety, nutrition and people and communities. At launch, it planned to focus on nutrition labeling and carbon emissions, in particular.
This quest for sustainability has spread to other Unilever ice cream brands, as well. In May, Breyers committed to source only 100% Grade A milk and cream and to update packaging to reflect that commitment. In addition, Breyers is contributing to a fund that will partner with the Dairy Farmers of America on initiatives to support cost savings and environmental sustainability on dairy farms.
While all of these programs are likely an effort to appeal to the socially conscious modern consumer, it may be all for nothing. According to a study from QuadPackaging and Package InSight, most shoppers don't notice sustainability branding on packaging. The research examined whether or not shoppers' behaviors are influenced by a visual sustainability rating system placed on the front of packaging, finding 92% of participants did not notice sustainability logos on the packages. This realization came despite 53% of participants saying a simple rating system would impact their purchase and over 40% claiming sustainability influences their buying decisions.
This may come as a blow to companies that have worked hard to implement sustainability initiatives, only to have them go unnoticed and unappreciated. So what should brands do to combat this? QuadPackaging and Package InSight recommend companies focus more on integrated marketing campaigns to educate customers about the efforts they are making and what their sustainability claims mean.
Paul Nowak of QuadPackaging says, "It might be important to your brand to include these logos, but you don't need prime packaging real estate—awareness and education are more important to get through to consumers."
Jennette has been with The Food Institute since 2013. As Marketing Director, she is responsible for promoting all Food Institute books, seminars and webinars, as well as writing and editing the Food Institute’s annual publications. Additionally, she writes for and edits the daily news update, Today in Food, and contributes to the biweekly Food Institute Report. She has a background in non-profit and environmental marketing, programming and writing, and graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in Communication Studies.
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