While the worlds of business, activism and academia use the concept of sustainability to incorporate economic, social and environmental issues into one neat and tidy concept, most consumers understand the underlying values of the concept to be better expressed in terms of “transparency” and “responsibility.”
Our Transparency 2015 report finds that awareness of, and familiarity with, sustainability continues to grow, reaching an all-time high of 79% in 2015 (up from 74% in 2013). There is clear evidence this year that sustainability is becoming more prevalent in consumers’ attitudes and actions:
• An increasing percentage of consumers define sustainability in terms of natural resource conservation, land stewardship and responsible farming methods
• More consumers claim that their purchasing decisions are influenced by environmental and social well-being
• Almost a fifth claim to be buying sustainable products more frequently
However, consumers continue to struggle to identify sustainable products and companies, hindering them in their desire to support sustainable initiatives and contribute to the welfare of society and the environment. Another area of growing concern is animal welfare. Consumers are looking for information on:
• Sustainable fishing practices and knowing that catches do not harm species (such as dolphins) that are not going to be harvested for consumption
• How animals are raised – are they treated humanely and raised in as natural an environment as possible? Are they given hormones or antibiotics that may impact consumers’ health?
• The use of animals in product safety testing
Consumers are increasingly drawing connections between their health and the conditions in which animals are raised and say they want to support companies that prioritize treatment of both workers and animals, even beyond low prices: almost half of consumers (47 percent) say they support companies that avoid inhumane treatment of animals (up 6 points from 2013).
Scrutiny of animal welfare is influencing consumers to believe that animals allowed to act out their nature by wandering freely and feeding naturally (i.e., “grass fed”) confer qualities that are natural and healthy. Distinctions like grass-fed, raised on pasture, no processed animal parts in feed, free-range, not fed corn and humane conditions are now rising in importance.
Niman Ranch is a textbook case study of a brand consumers perceive as a company that cares for the animals that make it to America’s dinner table—at home and in the restaurant. The Niman Ranch mission is “to raise livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably to deliver the finest tasting meat in the world.” In agreement with the company’s core values, many consumers believe that an animal’s quality of life is reflected in the quality of the meat.
That animals are raised in the pastures of independent farmers rather than factory farms is an underlying belief among consumers that small farmers care more than industrial farmers. The Animal Welfare Approved seal is understood and trusted by brand loyalists. Consumers believe that product quality is also derived from the fact that Niman farmers do not use antibiotics or hormones.
Looking ahead, as with large amorphous issues like GMO’s, public concern and focus on animal welfare will not be lessening in intensity. Retailers, restaurants, suppliers and processors will need to better understand some fundamental notions about transparency and how it can improve dialogue with changing consumers in relation to animal welfare. From the consumer perspective, transparency is:
• “Seeing” (how it’s made, where it’s from, what’s in it, who made it)
• Food being made from fresh ingredients (in an open kitchen)
• Animals humanely raised (free range, antibiotic-free)
• Companies sourcing or processing food with care
• Being open and honest about your business practices and your products
• Consumer choice – letting them see and judge for themselves
• Quality and care in production and ingredients that translate into better taste, health, efficacy and enjoyment
• Open production, employee interactions
• The gateway to building trust with consumers
Be willing to engage with consumers and be open to their feedback. Start a dialogue with consumers. Great entry points are often talking about what’s in your products, where ingredients are sourced or how they are made. Articulate how you are planning for the future as well as responding to immediate concerns. But don’t fake it. Be honest and commit to updates as you work through the new processes.
Learn more about The Hartman Group’s Transparency report.
As CEO, Laurie Demeritt provides strategic and operational leadership for The Hartman Group’s analytics, consulting and research teams. She is a frequent keynote speaker at major industry conferences and client events. She is renowned for her adept ability to breakdown the complexities of culture and consumer behavior and translate them into meaningful solutions for clients. For more information about The Hartman Group, visit http://www.hartman-group.com/or contact Blaine Becker, senior director of marketing, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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