As we look toward the new year and embark on another revolution around the sun, we have the opportunity to reset and consider what we want the next 365 days to be about. Business leaders are facing decisions on which direction they see their company going, what their primary objectives will be, and how they will accomplish them. Now is the time to have your goals set and your plans aligned.
For some, one goal might be improving sustainability efforts. It’s a valid consideration. One NYU study determined that sustainability-marketed products were responsible for 50.1% of packaged goods market growth, despite representing just 16.6% of the category. They’re also growing 5.6x faster than their conventional counterparts, and outperforming conventional products in 90% of the categories examined. Here we’ll be highlighting a few sustainability-focused brands in hopes of providing some insight and inspiration for the industry as we move into 2021.
It Starts with Ingredients
Good food starts with good ingredients. As most entrepreneurs know, taste is king when it comes to the consumer. But they’re also thinking beyond that, looking for indicators of quality and scrutinizing the information on pack before making purchasing decisions. While dietary preferences and needs are certainly one guiding light, more people are starting to consider whether what’s in their fridge or pantry comes from sustainable sources.
Oatly, the brand that arguably made oat “milk” popular across the world, is helping to drive those conversations. In their 2019 sustainability report they highlighted that greenhouse gas emissions of producing Oatly are 80% less than cow’s milk, using 79% less land and 60% less energy, a pretty big indicator that “milking” oats is a more sustainable option for those planet-conscious consumers. Now in the UK, the brand is rolling out new messaging that showcases the product’s climate footprint, in co2e emissions, on the front of its carton. The action aims to loop consumers into a rather complicated -- but necessary -- conversation, empowering them with information and challenging the industry to prioritize transparency.
But they aren’t the only ones building a brand around sustainable ingredients, upcycling is another growing trend. Brands like Barnana, Wtrmln Wtr and Ugly Pickle Co. are making good use of imperfect produce, reducing food waste and validating this sustainable approach to business. And while it may still feel like a nascent category, according to the Upcycled Food Association, 57% of consumers want to buy more upcycled foods.
Beyond produce, some brands are finding new uses for perfectly good byproducts, too. Regrained turns spent grains from the beer brewing process into snackable puffs, Good Fish repurposes salmon skins into crispy chips, and Riff is making energy drinks from coffee bean husks. The possibilities are vast when it comes to turning food production inefficiencies into revenue generating opportunities, while championing our global food waste problem in the process.
What’s on the Outside Still Counts
Selecting ingredients might be an early step in developing a product, but packaging is what consumers interact with first. And while originally intended to keep products fresh, packaging has evolved to communicate a brand’s story and values to customers. Aesthetic design, delectable looking food imagery and product descriptions are a given, but brands are starting to prioritize innovation in sustainable packaging, too.
In 2018, Coconut Bliss became the first ice cream company to use paperboard pints sourced from sustainably managed forests, with biopolymer lining made from renewable sugar cane husks. The design is a result of the brand petitioning its suppliers for more sustainable solutions. Since then, more ice cream brands have followed suit and adopted the new packaging. Based in Eugene, Oregon, Coconut Bliss has always had a particular focus on making planet-friendly products, and going beyond the status quo is the kind of forward-thinking that has helped it lead by example and maintain its loyal fan base.
Another brand that has flipped category packaging on its head is PathWater. The founders’ ambitious idea to fight single-use plastic -- in a category that has historically embraced the material -- is nothing short of revolutionary. The brand delivered the first reusable convenience store water bottle made from thick aluminum -- and at a comparable price point. While the product has physically helped reduce single-use plastic, it’s done even more by challenging consumers to think about their packaging consumption. Since its launch, PathWater has collaborated with a variety of partners including a hotel, restaurant, and clothing brand, creating opportunities to expand the conversation.
Business Practices Make Perfect
As a CPG business, focusing on your product is the more obvious way to approach sustainability, but it's not the only way to make an impact. How you operate internally can make a big difference in your community and your company culture. Embracing and supporting sustainable business practices is the link between your outward facing efforts and your company’s day-to-day.
There’s many ways you can think about this section, as it is not so cut-and-dry as ingredients and packaging. Here’s a few things you can do:
- Make sustainability a priority.
- Reduce energy and water use.
- Recycle and manage waste.
- Train and empower employees.
- Consider becoming a certified B corp.
While it may feel like an overwhelming undertaking for younger brands, thinking about sustainability early on can help lay a foundation to build on. Even small changes make a difference. Conversely, larger brands may feel it's hard to pivot when the company’s process is already set in place, but with a little commitment and time investment, it will be rewarding to identify areas for improvement. Ultimately, the payoff will expand far beyond one company; it will help define a culture of sustainability within the industry that ripples throughout the ecosystem.
What sustainability efforts are you taking on in the new year? We’d love to hear from you!
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