As the nature of what sustainability means continues to evolve across industries and sectors, consumer preferences grow increasingly more sophisticated in this space. And growing consumer awareness of their increasing degree of influence is helping drive positive sustainability trends.
Julia Wilson, Director, Global Responsibility and Sustainability, Nielsen, recently sat down with Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer, Campbell’s Soup Company, to discuss the nature of this evolution in consumer preferences, distinguishing between how companies build sustainability into their strategy and operations, and how consumers see brands’ broader role in sustainability-focused solutions for the planet.
Resource conservation and tracking, minimizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks, and communicating results to stakeholders are all part of the sustainability journey for companies. “But from a consumer perspective, it’s a whole different story,” said Stangis. “They’re looking at every one of those inputs in a different way. They’re thinking about things that might have attributes around natural, organic, or traceable as being better for them.”
In a world where sustainability can mean anything from recyclable packaging to responsible sourcing—and a whole lot more—it’s critical for brands to evolve alongside consumers’ changing needs, and to adopt an audience-informed strategy when it comes to messages tailored according to various stakeholder groups’ interests, whether it’s investors, retailers, or end consumers.
“You still have to focus on being responsible, ethical, transparent, but the things we amplify now are the things that consumers are asking for, and that’s changed over time,” said Stangis. “In the early days, it was being a responsible manufacturer and treating your employees in the right way. We still do those things, but in the last couple years, consumers have asked for more traceability, more transparency, more stories about where their food comes from, and [consumers and manufacturers] have moved into sustainable agriculture spaces.”
While it’s key to listen to consumers, it’s also important to recognize the ways in which sustainability is increasingly intertwined with product, brand and ingredient transparency. “As a family of brands that people around the world recognize, consumers want to know more and more about what’s behind those products,” said Stangis. “Their purchases are based on that value.”
To communicate that value, brands are increasingly focusing on socially conscious advertising to demonstrate the full scope of their efforts to consumers. “If the messaging doesn’t meet consumers where they are, it’s not authentic,” said Stangis.