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Prediction: Consumers Will Want A Universally Accepted Definition Of Sustainability

A wooden sign that reads "Go Green", new year
Cindy Sorensen
Cindy Sorensen

by Cindy Sorensen/founder and CEO, The Grocery Group

As we enter 2019, what will the new product trends be, not only in the dairy department but throughout the entire grocery store? New product introductions occur as a result of months of product research, development and consumer research to ensure the market success of a new item. The pipeline from idea to market launch, while shortened vs. just five to 10 years ago, can still sometimes be upward of 18 months in the making.

Consumer research always has been a critical component of bringing a new product to market. Without a consumer desire or need for a product, success will be limited. Consumer research that focuses on the “here and now” is important, but the real win is using consumer research to identify the trends that are occurring based on consumer behavior. It is the ability to translate those trends into the creation of new products—and the marketing messages and positioning—that will make an item successful in the marketplace.

Several consumer research studies have indicated that today’s consumer is looking for transparency in food production, including information about on-farm practices as they relate to sustainability and animal care. We’ve seen many manufacturers begin to use this consumer information to create marketing messages promoting their products made with environmentally-friendly sustainable practices. Currently there is little proof being provided that verifies, validates or defines what that really means.

Consumers are savvy, and I predict the trend we will see in 2019 is consumers beginning to ask for a universally-accepted definition of “sustainability.” Not only will consumers ask for a definition, but the burden of proof will be put on manufacturers to provide verification of their sustainability practices.

As witnessed with the “all natural” marketing claims once made by manufacturers, confusion was created and ultimately the U.S. Food & Drug Administration had to step in with labeling and manufacturing requirements.

Manufacturers can minimize the chance of a repeat of the confusion caused by the “all natural” claims. How can they do this? By incorporating the use of a third party, objective sustainability verifier and validator. This is the true marketing message in the sustainability game. When a company employs a third party for this process, it has an objective rating by which its claims can be measured. The marketing messages will be credible and defensible with consumers.

What is the future of your marketing messages for 2019? Are you prepared to provide the proof behind your “sustainably sourced and produced” marketing claims? The consumer will demand it before the year is over.

Cindy Sorensen is the founder and CEO of The Grocery Group, which focuses on developing leadership in the grocery industry by supporting industry professionals in their career development. The Group also develops programs to connect grocery industry professionals to colleges and universities to help attract, recruit and retain a talented workforce in a competitive employment market. Reach Sorensen at [email protected]

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