Food and Beverage Companies Gain the Most by Going Sustainable

Most consumers, independent of generation, want the brands they engage with to care about the environment. And recent data shows that over half of consumers have become more eco-conscious since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morning Consult’s report, “What Sustainability Means to Consumers,” shows that consumers both believe sustainability is important for the products they buy, and believe most of the responsibility for that should land on the brand.

Consumers Believe Brands Should be Leading the Way

Consumers don’t think individual action is very effective. Morning Consult’s survey found that only 19% of all US adults felt their individual sustainability efforts had a major impact, with the rest (81%) saying individual efforts have a minor or zero impact on sustainability.  

Further, when asked directly who should be responsible for sustainability efforts, 41% said consumers and brands should be equally responsible. 20% said brands should be “somewhat more responsible,” while an additional 16% said brands are much more responsible. 

Basically, a little math shows us that 77% of consumers believe brands have at least the same or more responsibility than consumers for sustainable practices.

What does it all mean? Well, it means three things: consumers feel sustainable practices are important, they don’t think individual action is effective, and they feel like brands carry more responsibility for eco-friendly initiatives.

In essence, consumers are turning to those with money and power to tackle their climate concerns. Consumers are turning to brands. Your brand, ideally. A challenge, possibly, but more importantly, an opportunity. And the data shows that this opportunity is greatest for food and beverage companies.

The Food and Beverage Industry Has the Most to Gain from Sustainability

It turns out consumers will swap brands to choose a more sustainable product. What’s most interesting about Morning Consult’s sustainability report was that it showed that sustainably produced and packaged products in the food and beverage category were far more likely to sway a purchase than any other industry.

When asked if sustainability efforts would sway a purchase, food and beverage products had the highest numbers. 36% of consumers were “somewhat likely” to buy a more sustainable food or beverage, while 33% of those polled were “very likely.” That means that over half (57%) of US adults could be convinced to switch brands on food or beverage just to go with the more eco-friendly option. 

Food and beverage companies have a commanding lead in this department, too. That “57% likelihood of sway” is 7% higher than the second-place industry, which ended up being “Shipping & Postal.”

Luckily, the food and beverage industry has a bit of a head start in the mind of consumers. That same report showed that consumers believe the industry is already doing better than most when it comes to eco-friendly practices. When asked which industries were doing the most good for the environment, the food and beverage industry was the second-most selected answer, just behind “technology.” 

Not only do consumers have positive associations with food and beverage and sustainability, but their negative impressions are also fairly low. When asked which industry had done the most harm to the environment, only 6% said “Food and Beverage,” while 46% decried the Automotive industry. 

So we’ve got a consumer base demanding sustainable practices, who are willing to put their money where their beliefs are, who think companies should be doing more, AND who says the food and beverage industry would sway them easiest. 

The clear tact, then, for brands looking to capitalize on these trends is to either switch to sustainable practices or get the news of their already-sustainable practices in front of consumers’ eyes. 

Consumers Are Unsure What Sustainability Looks Like

As the old cartoons used to say, “knowledge is power.” In this case, the knowledge is “your brand’s sustainability practices” and the power is “consumer buying power.” It’s a stretched metaphor, but we’re feeling a bit flexible today. 

Morning Consult drilled down a version of their sustainability report that focused specifically on each of the industries they brought up in their survey. In the “Food and Beverage” report for 2022, they found that over half of US adults said “climate change” has either a major or minor impact on their eating and drinking decisions every day. 

That’s every single day. With that desire front and center, food and beverage brands must double down on educating consumers on their sustainability efforts. Unfortunately, it may start as an uphill battle.

That same “Food and Beverage” report also revealed that a good chunk of consumers doesn’t really understand what makes a food or beverage product sustainable in the first place. Their numbers showed that 1 in 4 US adults didn’t know how to define sustainability in the food or beverage industry, which was the most popular answer. The 2nd most popular answer defined “packaging” as an important sustainable element, with the 3rd most popular answer saying “recycling.”

This data gestures at a few strong strategies for leveraging the desire for sustainability in your marketing materials. 

Don’t Be Shy, Brag About Your Sustainability

The most important job seems to be not throwing around buzzwords like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” when referring to food and beverage products. It’s not a bad start, but with 25% of consumers not even knowing what sustainability in food and beverage products even means, we have to begin with clear language. 

Step 1, explain how your products are sustainable. Does the packaging use less plastic? Does it use a material that’s easier and less resource-intensive to grow? Can it be recycled easily? Share these details, and be specific.

Step 2, brag a lot. Consumers seem to be begging for sustainable food and beverage products, so give it to ‘em. Put sustainability front and center in your social media, show off how your products are helping or at least not hurting the environment. Partner with charitable organizations that promote sustainable business practices, specifically in your industry. 

Step 3, advertise in sustainable ways. Consumers are getting better at calling shenanigans when they see a brand’s messaging is counter to its actions. If your packaging is eco-friendly and your materials recyclable, a wasteful brand activation could make you Twitter’s unwanted “main character” of the day. 

Consider instead a brand activation that is itself sustainable, which will help you create a unified green messaging front.

Brands in the food and beverage industry are at a tipping point right now and are perfectly positioned to grab new audiences by simply showing a more responsible side to your production and packaging. 

For more advice on how to get your message to the masses, or on how to pull off sustainable and effective experiential marketing campaigns, reach out to Inspira Marketing today.

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