Purpose: Communicating brand purpose in the food and drink sector

In our latest blog post focusing on brand purpose, Account Director, Jamie Slavin, discusses the growing demand from consumers for food and drink brands to share their values.  This demand can be a challenge for food and drink brands, but placing purpose at the centre of your business, and communicating that purpose with clarity, can in fact become a brilliant opportunity. Read on for more insights on to how harness the power of brand purpose.

From the health profile of the ingredients, to the sustainability of the packaging in which they are contained, few things say more about who we are, our values, and aspirations, than the food and drink we consume. As increasingly discerning and engaged consumers, we make active choices about what we put in our bodies, and we want to know that the brands we purchase share our values.

In a study by the research organisation Meaningful Brands, in the majority of regions of the world, food was classed as one of the top three most meaningful industries. This means consumers have high engagement scores on both rational drivers such as whether the product works, and on emotional ones, such as whether they feel a connection to it.

To put it bluntly, of course consumers still want to consume food and drink that tastes good, but they now also need to know that it is produced by a company with a purpose beyond just profits.

Undoubtedly, this increased consumer awareness has manifested itself most clearly in the current crusade against plastic packaging, and the fight against obesity. Parents want to feel that the company producing the food they’re feeding their child, cares as much about that child’s health as they do, and also about the impact they are having on their local community in which they operate, and the wider environment.

For food and drink companies to remain engaged with consumers, they must deliver on purpose as well as products.

In recent months, manufacturers and retailers have lined up to announce initiatives and innovations to reduce, or at least be seen to reduce, their environmental impact. The problem for many brands is that they’re reacting to external pressures, rather than leading proactively. In some cases, companies having been accused of retrofitting environmentalism to their brand.

Most of us will recall Iceland’s palm oil campaign, launched last Christmas, with a banned advert featuring an orangutan that had fallen victim to deforestation because of the palm oil industry. Iceland won praise for drawing attention to the issue, and its commitment in April 2018 to stop stocking own brand items that contained palm oil by the end of the year. But the supermarket came under fire in January 2019 when it emerged that it was still stocking own brand products containing, you guessed it…palm oil. The company explained that to avoid food waste it wanted to sell already manufactured products, but the revelations served to undermine Iceland’s credibility on the issue – it risked the campaign appearing as a stunt rather than something built into the fabric of the company.

A much better approach is to be purpose driven by design, and to communicate this purpose with confidence.

Waitrose is an example of a supermarket that has done this well. As a company owned in trust by its employees, or ‘partners’, intrinsic to its identity is the idea of behaving in a responsible, communal manner. This has allowed it to adopt new practices around sustainability, animal welfare and health that feel like a natural, credible fit. Examples include food dispensers that do not rely on plastic packaging, the removal of disposable coffee cups from stores, and the replacement of loose plastic bags for vegetables with home compostable ones. To underline the centrality of these schemes to its identity as a business, Waitrose collectively calls these initiatives ‘Partners against waste’.

Naturedieta pet food brand that packages nutritious dog food in paperboard cartons, is another company that has embraced the purpose driven by design approach, and communicated it well. It has built itself, and therefore sells its product, with responsible sourcing and sustainability at its core. Its package consists of renewable paperboard and sugar cane based plastic caps, and the food inside is locally and ethically sourced. The brand’s purpose is to deliver a diet rich in nutrition for dogs and to continue its drive for sustainability, and it has become the first dog food to be packaged in cartons to help reduce plastic consumption and encourage recycling, two issues that are top of mind for pet owners.

As environmental and health concerns continue to dominate our headlines in the coming years, consumers will continue to be more engaged and discerning, and critical of food and drink brands that don’t share their values. By being clear about purpose, clear about their approach to issues such as sustainability and health, and clear that brand purpose is intrinsic to doing good business, food and drink companies have a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the value they bring to society.

Written by Jamie Slavin, Account Director, Public Affairs

Get in touch or find out more about our purpose communications team here.

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