Shoppers are looking to vote with their dollars. Since the start of the pandemic, consumers have increasingly begun focusing on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals of the brands and retailers from which they shop. In fact, one recent report found that 83 percent of consumers believe that businesses should “be actively shaping ESG best practices.”
Of course, simply being aware that many consumers are considering a company’s ESG practices more than ever doesn’t necessarily tell a brand how to meet those needs. After all, while one shopper might be primarily concerned with a company’s carbon footprint, another might be thinking about labor practices, for instance.
Sir Kensington’s, a New York City-based, Unilever-owned premium condiment brand, released its first Integrity Report earlier this month (June 1). The 68-page (with pictures) document both shares the company’s impact across a wide range of metrics and notes what consumers are looking for from brands.
“There’s been a trend in which companies communicate their focus areas and their wins, but shy away from the more troubling spots,” Alex Medeiros, general manager at Sir Kensington’s and other Unilever growth-stage food brands, told PYMNTS in an interview. “These are what we think of as the flashy (and often effective) tools of greenwashing, but there’s a lot of critical work that needs to be done behind the scenes, including research, measurement and structured accountability.”
Cutting Through the Noise
Of course, 68 pages of metrics and statistics is a lot for the lay reader.
“While we know most people don’t read sustainability reports cover-to-cover, we’ve tried to create a report that is simultaneously data-driven and backed by some pretty unsexy processes and [is] incredibly enjoyable to read,” said Medeiros.
Still, the average grocery shopper may not take the time to go through, point by point, where Sir Kensington’s impact aligns with their values and where there is work to be done. Medeiros explained, “We try to educate our eaters about our impacts and inspire them to give us feedback across other channels, too.”
He noted that the brand’s social media channels and its Taste Buds fan community, which boasts a membership of over 30,000, also provide an opportunity to inform consumers about the brand’s impact and goals. He added that, where previously consumers may have “just known us as that fancy ketchup company,” the company set out in 2020 to “shift that perception,” redirecting consumers’ attention to the brand’s impact.
Keeping a Finger on the Pulse
As the company continues to publish materials related to its impact goals, Medeiros said, it will also keep tracking how consumers’ impressions of the brand change, both through surveys and based on what Taste Buds members are saying.
For instance, the report noted that third-party certifications, such as Non-GMO Project verification labels and USDA organic labels, encourage 86 percent of consumers to purchase packaged foods. The company has not yet tracked which of these certifications are the most important to consumers right now, though Medeiros noted that the next survey may include a more specific breakdown about “which certifications resonate most.”
Beyond certifications, he said the issues that are top-of-mind for consumers right now are “ingredients, packaging and the nutritional value of our products.” Beyond that, he said, “They believe that DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] and the treatment of employees are also critically important for us to focus on.”
Looking ahead, Medeiros believes that while consumers’ current ESG concerns will remain, others will also come to the fore. He predicted that “companies’ greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency and workers’ rights” will “become increasingly important to consumers.”
Warts and All
The integrity report is not just a victory lap. Medeiros noted a finding from the report that, despite the favorable impact that Sir Kensington’s impact strategy made on customers, a significant portion continue to believe that “impact strategies, in general, are just marketing,” challenging the brand to clearly communicate its practical commitments.
Additionally, he pointed out, more than half of consumers reported that “it was difficult to understand how much a company really prioritizes its impact work,” and that 49 percent reported not being able to tell whether or not companies “were actually making a tangible impact.”
“This mission isn’t just a feel-good halo we have for ourselves,” said Medeiros. “As part of the capitalist food system, we know that Sir Kensington’s has an unavoidable effect on the world and people around us.”
He added that part of the goal of the report is to “address some of our biggest harms on the planet,” as well as to “publicly hold ourselves accountable” for improving on these impact targets over time, even when that means disclosing that the company fell short of its goals.
“We hope other companies that have been working behind-the-scenes on their sustainability efforts will be inspired to be open about their impacts, too,” said Medeiros. “Even on the pieces that don’t feel like all sunshine and roses.”