Food dominates our lives; it influences our health and has becomes a defining theme of 21st-century popular culture. No wonder then that the sustainability issues that influence the things we eat and drink have taken on such importance with the public worldwide.
Today, food and beverage companies are in the spotlight like never before over the quality and quantity of the ingredients they use. Whether it be artificial additives, genetically modified ingredients or the pure amount of sugar and salt used in modern processed foods, consumers are demanding greater transparency, information and quality in the products they buy. Just ask General Mills, The Coca-Cola Company, McDonald’s, PepsiCo — even Chipotle. All have found themselves at the sharp end of consumer concerns in recent years.
It’s no coincidence that this shift in consumer tastes has evolved during exactly the same period that social media has gained prominence in our lives. What once were isolated activist issues around food quality, animal care and toxic substances can now go viral and mainstream overnight, or they can slowly build momentum over a period of months and years as their importance and relevance to the public hits home.
The marketing departments of major companies often point to the growing emphasis that Millennial shoppers place on food sustainability issues but this is a trend that will continue to grow as new generations of digital natives come online. In the past, companies may have tried to ignore consumer anger over food issues but they now know their accountability to, and transparency with, consumers is crucial for both their reputation and their success in the long term.
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It’s not just a defensive move. Enlightened food and drink companies also understand that they have a business prerogative and need to educate their consumers about the ways of sustainable food production and consumption - not least because their own business models and success rely on adapting to a world of finite resources, challenges in sourcing and more responsible supply chains and labor practices.
In Sustainly’s latest Trend Briefing, we take a short but sharp look at the ways major food and beverage companies are seeking to connect with consumers, community and other audiences around the sustainability of food. We look back at how McDonald’s created its Supplier Stories to demonstrate the quality and integrity of local sourcing — a form of storytelling now employed by most major food producers and supermarkets. We consider how brewers such as Heineken and Budweiser are seeking new, innovative and disruptive ways to highlight sustainability and responsible drinking. And we examine how General Mills and Kraft seek to build credibility with consumers around natural ingredients. All of the examples cited and more can be explored in greater depth at Sustainly.com.
In the past, the current embrace of sustainability storytelling around food and drink could just have been seen as a passing fad. But with a growing generation of consumers expecting the companies they buy from to cater to sustainable and responsible tastes, no forward-thinking food and drink company can ignore that there’s a real and lasting appetite for change.