Sustainability is a focus in the food industry, with top companies in food manufacturing, food service and retail setting sustainability strategies. While many of these initiatives offer some productivity and efficiencies, research outlined in the recently released report from UL, “Claiming Green,” indicates that efforts to clearly communicate a greener product can strengthen the relationship with your consumers and increase sales.
“Claiming Green” reports that “70% of respondents were consciously searching for greener products, and 83% had consciously purchased sustainable products.” UL research shows that consumers who are happy with the way you communicate green claims are brand loyal and share their experience with their social network. But it isn’t as simple as using claims like “green,” “natural” or “sustainable,” which are vague, potentially misleading, hard to substantiate and are considered “greenwashing.”
Communicating Green Efforts
There are two main components to communicating green efforts: legality and consumer-focused wording. In 2013, according to “Claiming Green,” 23 of the countries polled by the Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance had “undertaken legal challenges to green claims in the marketplace.” Within the US, the FDA and the USDA regulate food claims on packages, requiring all labels to be truthful. In 2012, the FTC issued Green Guides to limit deceptive green marketing, intending to enforce the guidelines with legal action. The European Commission issued voluntary standards in 2013 for environmental claims and will establish specific sector rules by 2016. Work with your legal team to mitigate your risk; claims need to be clear, specific and substantiated.
Finding consumer-focused wording is key. Claims which are too technical or confusing can result in lower sales and a negative brand impression. “Claiming Green” tested three types of claims with consumers: legitimate claims, or first party substantiated claims using clear and specific language; certified claims, which are substantiated by an independent third party; and problematic claims, which would not meet current governmental guidelines for “greenwashing” by being vague or untrue. The results showed clear favorability for certified claims on purchase intent, especially with millennials. Legitimate claims lagged behind certified claims.
While sustainability strategies are increasingly finding their way into the food industry, green claims have not been a focal point. But there are green communication themes that may apply:
- Efficient production or energy-saving manufacturing.
- The presence of organic (EU) or absence of GMO ingredients
- Locally-sourced ingredients or ingredients produced through responsible agriculture (using less fertilizers or water conservation).
- Products that meet animal welfare standards or fair trade.
Third-party certifications can verify and substantiate claims. Some options include USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Food Alliance, Rainforest Alliance or the Marine Stewardship Council. Retailers like Whole Foods lend credibility to the products they stock with specific standards regarding sustainability.
Efforts to communicate sustainable practices to consumers using green claims can positively change your bottom line. Whether you use a legitimate claim, on package certification, or a company-wide marketing campaign, work with your legal team to substantiate data for any claims made and utilize guidelines in this report and local government standards to create meaningful claims for your consumers.
Want to learn more?
Register today for UL Environment’s webinar, “How green product claims affect purchase intent and brand perception,” featuring Lee Ann Head, VP Research and Insight, Shelton Group; Mark Rossolo, Global Director of Public Affairs, Underwriters Laboratories; and John Davies, Vice President & Senior Analyst, GreenBiz Group.
And make sure to download UL Environment’s exclusive report, “Claiming Green,” for more insights.
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