Adding Value to the Rapidly Evolving Sustainability Space

Gen Z believes what they eat is who they are. Today’s consumers express their values and aspirations through food and beverage choices. And it’s not just about taste, price, convenience and nutrition. Sustainability matters too, and it’s integral to the next evolution of how we talk about and engage with food.

In 2023, Padilla ran a Climate & Convenience survey to explore how the interest in addressing climate change may be impacting consumers’ food and beverage choices. We found that 50% of respondents believe purchasing products that use sustainable packaging—as it relates to food—can help address climate change. Gen X is more likely to eat more plant-based foods to help tackle climate change, while Gen Z and millennials are more likely to use an app to help reduce food waste by purchasing foods near their “best by” date.

Every generation has sustainability on their minds and on their plates. To navigate and thrive in this complex and dynamic environment, brands must authentically connect their brand experience—and the impactful things they’re doing for people, planet and communities—with people’s values.

Authenticity is the key word here. Brands cannot just talk about sustainability without business practices and commitments that deliver on it. Smoke-and-mirror tactics will only lead to a breach of consumer trust.

From environmental pressures to social issues to politics, consumers are demanding more from the brands they consume, but they’re also more critical than ever before. A brand may be celebrated for its plastic reduction efforts and yet criticized for using palm oil as an ingredient. Here are three steps to help your brand or organization develop a unique positioning, carve out a role in the broader food systems transformation and build trust and authentic connections.

3 steps to finding your brand’s voice in the sustainability narrative:

  1. Unique positioning. For brands or organizations with sustainable practices and commitments in place but who are new to talking about it, it’s essential to undergo an analysis of your sustainability commitments, priorities and business practices alongside those of your competitors. Also, to look at the recommendations and guidance provided by credible authoritative organizations and to consider partnerships and relationships that may be in place or in development. With this information in hand, you can analyze and identify key differences and craft a unique positioning, as well as identify additional areas to evaluate for partnership or collaboration to accomplish your sustainability goals.
  2. Intentional ripple effect. Sustainable business practices and commitments have an impact on food choices and the food system. It’s important to map potential impacts out, and communicate about them responsibly. As leaders and learners, determining where the brand or organization can contribute to food systems change—and the dialogue about it—is also important.
  3. Authentic connection. To resonate with your consumers, you must connect your unique positioning and brand experience with what they value. Through meaningful storytelling and consistent actions, you build genuine trust and credibility among your consumers, while inspiring and motivating them to prioritize sustainability—and your brand—today and for years to come.

Not sure where your brand or organization fits into the sustainability conversation? Padilla’s award-winning team of credentialed culinary, beverage and nutrition experts, food and lifestyle media specialists, and business pros can help. Our Food + Beverage Practice provides global expertise and leadership in the planet’s evolving food ecosystem. We’ve helped clients across the entire food value chain – from soil to spoon – transform in unique ways. Together, we can reimagine why, what and how consumers eat and drink – to build a flourishing future for all.  

This article previously appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of O’Dwyer’s.

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