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Creating a food brand story through sustainability


This article aims to raise some critical questions and reflect on the possible solutions toward better production and consumption in the context of Indian retail. It focuses on the role of brands in the creation of sustainable markets…

Creating a food brand story through sustainability
Only four or five brands in India have internationally recognized, credible certifications to be green or sustainable products

As an average Indian consumer shopping at the local supermarket, if you were to look for ‘green’ or sustainable products on the retail shelf, you would find four or five brands that have internationally recognised credible certifications – products that you would trust have met their state environmental and social commitments. The challenge, then, is where are these products, how do you get to know about them, how do you access them, and why aren’t there more available in India?

In a report titled ‘Consumer Perception Survey on Green Products’ by Green Purchasing Network of India in 2014, it is stated that the buying trends of Indian consumers indicate that they are often deterred from buying green products because of limited visibility and low availability of green products in Indian markets (Consumer Perception Survey on Green Products, 2014 – Green Purchase Network of India).

To change this trend and address the immediate issue, concerted and combined eff orts by the civil society, industry and government are required. There is an urgent need to build markets for products that have a smaller environmental footprint and which have been created with concerns for social equity in mind.

Brands, as a key stakeholder in this change process, are at a critical position and could embrace among the most functional approaches to creating a market for sustainable products. In a complex market like India, brands with commitments on sustainability off er an ideal platform to garner consumer and producers’ trust and push the growth of sustainable markets and supply chains.

Indian brands can follow the examples of their global peers from markets like the European Union, Australia and the United States where it is a common practice to adopt sustainability practices and certifications. In these markets, sustainability comes with a strong business case covering aspects of market access, long-term consumer loyalty and brand visibility.

High sales are often associated with ‘good’ brands, which typically adhere to environment and social safeguards. With credible certifications and labelling, brands in India also have an opportunity to tap into a new and evolving market segment – the upwardly mobile, well-travelled, brand-conscious, ‘green’ shopper. Now, more than ever before, Indian brands are trying to reinvent themselves to create and cater to new market segments.

The ‘green shopper’ is a point of leverage that could potentially be a game-changer. A report by BBMG and Globescan titled ‘Rethinking Consumption: Consumer and the Future of Sustainability’, published in 2012, reflects that the largest consumer segment in Brazil, China and India represents hundreds of millions of consumers – growing to perhaps billions by 2050. Forward-thinking brands should prioritise reaching them to redefine value, earn their trust and influence them to rethink sustainability.

According to the report, consumers in developing markets are more likely to adopt sustainable behaviours than their counterparts in developed markets, including checking the list of product ingredients (65 per cent vs 49 per cent) and seeking products in concentrated forms that reduce product packaging (55per cent vs. 42 per cent).

With the right marketing strategy, brands can establish an interface for consumers interested in sustainable products and producers willing to off er these products. Marketing campaigns that narrate the sustainability journeys of a brand can be used to educate the consumer, not just about the product itself but also about the authenticity of commitments and green claims.

In this case, certifications and labels can be used as a mechanism to showcase authentic claims that ensure measurable impact of the ‘green’ product on high environmental, social and economic criteria.

Setting An Example

While many companies have invested in cause related marketing, there are also other ways to approach the consumer – for example with on-product labelling of certified sustainable products and off -product marketing and promotion of credible certifications linked to a broader sustainability narrative. Brands can also promote sustainable consumption practices through experiential platforms which engage the consumers with a call to action.

The adoption and promotion of credible sustainability certifications, whether on product or off, links the consumer with demonstrably ‘real’ environmental, social and economic impact on-ground.

For example, Kimberly-Clark, the world’s largest tissue manufacturer and WWF Australia partnered on a ‘Love Your Forests’ campaign to raise awareness about Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the importance of responsible forest management among consumers. FSC is a globally recognised certification that promotes environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.

The Love Your Forests on-product label linked the well-recognised WWF panda logo with the FSC mark. Kimberly-Clark’s leading brands Kleenex Cottonelle, Kleenex facial tissues and VIVA paper towel featured the Love Your Forests label on supermarket shelves in Australia.

The campaign helped to differentiate Kimberly-Clark’s products in a crowded marketplace, and when linked with a television campaign went a long way to communicate their environmental credentials. WWF and IKEA have been working on key commodity related value chains including cotton and timber, since 2002.

Through engagement in 12 countries, innovation and advocacy, the partnership supports responsible forest management, sustainable cotton, and better water management. Promoting their use of certifi ed raw material off product, IKEA designed the “We Love Wood” campaign for consumers to highlight their use of wood sourced in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

Responsible Brands Make Sustainability Key Theme

In India, responsible brands are gradually making sustainability a key theme in their consumer engagement. As an effort to positively influence consumer behaviour on seafood choices, ITC Hotels is working with WWF-India on an experiential platform called ‘Choose Wisely’ that aims to raise awareness of the heavy exploitation of endangered fish resources and encourage consumer action to curb the demand on over-fished species.

A menu has recently been brought out for almost 41 ITC Pavilion restaurants, classifying fish using a traffic light rating system of red, orange and green. Green indicates that the choice made by the consumer is sustainable and free from adverse environmental impacts. Orange indicates the fish chosen, could be under threat of over-exploitation and red indicates the fish is from over-exploited fisheries and is under population threat.

The marketing and supply chain changes required to implement the programme are an enhancement to ITC’s ‘responsible luxury’ brand.

Responsible brands already understand the value of sustainability oriented business practices. These brands can tell the larger story behind their products and let consumers discover and experience the life cycle of their products, the people who make them, and the social and environmental progress witnessed over time, while simultaneously adding to their own marketing and sustainability story.

In Japan, Coca-Cola launched a locally produced mineral water. It sold 200 million bottles in six months and captured a staggering 25 per cent market. A large part of its extraordinary success is credited to the “consumer connection” achieved through the creative marketing of the product’s recyclability by environmental positioning that the consumer could understand and relate to.

Creating a ‘Sustainable Brand’ in India

In India, brands are at a point where they can drive change. This can be done by not just providing an interface between “green shoppers” an d sustainable products but also creating awareness about the brands’ own responsible practices. Commitment can be endorsed and showcased through credible and internationally recognised certifications on products.

Consumption can be incentivised by demonstrating to consumers the social and environmental value of the product rather just product features like quality, safety etc. Most importantly, brands in India can avoid general ‘green’ claims and communicate the progress made on their own commitments. Sustainability could thus easily evolve into the ‘big switch’ that the retail market in India has been waiting for.