Communicating Sustainability to Consumers
While consumers are increasingly interested in buying products that are better for themselves and the environment, they often lack information and trust, or are just plain confused. Retail dietitians looking at helping their retailers promote the sustainability of products and the efforts made by the food industry as a whole can successfully address this communication gap in several ways.
- Focus your messaging – Sustainability has different meanings to different customers. Consider what is important to your shoppers and address those concerns in your communication. Reducing waste, recycling and agricultural concerns for instance. Help consumers start to connect their food choices to true benefits for themselves and the environment. For example, beans have become a popular food staple in a plant-forward eating pattern, and they also have a great sustainability story. From being natural soil enrichers to helping reduce waste as an affordable and nourishing, shelf-stable meal starter.
- Point out certifications – To help consumers overcome the trust barrier, point out any third-party sustainable certifications that consumers can look for on national or private brands and what they mean. There are many types of labels, to familiarize yourself with so you can share information when needed. Make sure to also discuss any sustainable buying practices your merchandising team has in place such as seafood sourcing or partnerships with local growers that can really highlight your commitment to sustainability.
- Aim for transparency – Consumers don’t expect retailers to be perfect when it comes to sustainability efforts, but they do appreciate companies being transparent about the progress they are making. Share stories about the choices your retailer makes when sourcing private brand products and direct shoppers to apps that may help them get additional product information. Smartlabel® is one of those apps that reveals products’ ingredients, third-party certifications, social compliance, sustainability programs and sourcing practices.
- Make it real - One way to bring your sustainability efforts to life is to give your customers a visual peek behind the scenes — of your sourcing procedures, or through a supplier’s production processes. While live views are ideal, recorded videos of supplier sustainability practices in the field or processing plant can work well. The Michigan Bean Commission’s Cooking with Michigan Beans online resource, section 3, discusses sustainable growing practices and contains an interview with a grower, along with video links.
- Communicate concrete benefits of sustainability - Help your customers understand the positive impact of sustainable products by connecting the benefits to their everyday lives. For example, companies can express the benefits of sustainable packaging in concrete terms, such as the amount of steel cans that are recycled, vs going to a landfill.
As you build communication strategies for your sustainability efforts, partner closely with internal marketing, environmental, sourcing, operations and new product development teams, as well as outside partners such as farmers and manufacturers. By leveraging the collective expertise from these groups, retail RDNs can build trust with consumers through education on your sustainability initiatives.
Click here to access the Michigan Bean Commission Dietitian Toolkit that provides turnkey resources on promoting bean consumption including a section devoted to discussing sustainable food choices with consumers.