Posts tagged "climate change"

Alt. proteins with stronger sustainability message

Food System Report Reveals Hidden Environmental Impact

July 26th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Consumer insight, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Sustainability 0 comments on “Food System Report Reveals Hidden Environmental Impact”

Costs of climate threat are growing

A new study released by the Rockefeller Foundation reports $900 billion annually in added costs to the U.S. food system from agriculture derived greenhouse gas (GHG) and biodiversity losses as a result of land use transformation, animal grazing impacts and nitrogen pollution.

  • One major source of environmental impact is the 10 billion farm animals we harvest each year for food and the related damage from methane, water depletion and soil erosion from crops raised to feed livestock.

The U.S. has the most affordable, abundant food supply on earth requiring only about 5% of disposable income from families. According to the Rockefeller report, Americans spend approximately $1.1 trillion on food each year. However, that figure doesn’t take into account the unintended consequences of a food system that in many respects works against planet health and also the wellbeing of people when you consider the accelerated growth rates in obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Time for a reality check as we talk about the future of food

Our current food system is designed to deliver three things consistently:

  • Volume of food
  • Safety from food-borne illnesses
  • Inexpensive calories

However, we need a food system that is also aligned to help protect the environment and support human health.

An encouraging promise about the future of food is now emerging as vast sums of investment capital race to support the development of new food technologies. From 2015 to 2020 more than $4 billion has been invested in alt. protein technologies. These new food solutions may help reduce climate threat while offering a healthier nutritional profile for cleaner proteins in center-of-plate dishes.

How we eat, what we eat and where food comes is changing

Advancements in bioengineering have authored a tsunami of new food tech businesses pioneering ways to create foods that are not dependent on legacy ingredient supply chains. What’s coming is more food made from cultures, microbes and fermentation technologies.

Will consumers suddenly stop eating animal meat? Not likely. That said will substantial transfers of market share move to these new products not linked to a cow, lamb, pig or chicken? Highly likely; assuming the eating experience and taste hit the mark as an analog to the conventional version. Equally so for non-fish seafood.

Plant-based offers a hint at the transformation

According to Statista, total sales of plant-based meat and dairy products in 2020 reached an astounding $7 billion; of which ‘dairy-free dairy’ led the pack at $2.5 billion in sales of soy, almond, pea, rice and oat milks. An entire generation of milk users is growing up with a different definition of what milk is and how it tastes.

Plant-based meat, the fastest growing segment, hit stride at $1.4 billion in sales volume. That’s a whopping 45.3% jump over 2019 sales results. With new plant-based chicken nugget brands now simultaneously launching in food service channels, the likelihood of more trial and retail movement for non-meat meats is nearly a foregone conclusion. Equally impressive is the surge in plant-based cheese products, up 42.5% over 2019 to $270 million in sales.

  • The plant-based meat takeover has been quick. The trends suggest a potentially rapid uptake on the proposition for foods perceived to be healthier (less saturated fat than animal meat) and less taxing on the environment.

Industrial agriculture and meat production produce 24% of total greenhouse gases, the second leading contributor to climate threat behind fossil fuels. Meat production alone accounts for 65%of the world’s nitrous oxide, a gas with a global-warming impact 296 times greater per pound than carbon dioxide. What’s more, total emissions from agriculture are forecasted to increase 80% by 2050due to a significant growth in demand for meat and dairy products.

The development of new food solutions is really a higher-stakes proposition. Climate friendlier food tech may indeed help tamp down the surge in global warming that spawns wildfires, droughts, superstorms and other weather anomalies.  An unprecedented 115-degree heat wave in the Pacific Northwest came dangerously close to upending the regions’ agricultural eco-system.

Eating our way into climate chaos?

What happens when consumers begin to see there’s a relationship between food choices and climate impacts? Consumer attitudes and behaviors have shifted in recent years to focus on issues and more values-based considerations. Purchase behavior has already swung from a historic focus on taste, price and convenience to new concerns about transparency and visibility to the supply chain alongside the number one consumer issue, health and wellness.

The food industry will be obligated to pay attention to these transformational changes and look more fully at climate readiness, sustainability policies and commitments.

Questions food and beverage companies must address:

  • What is the true carbon footprint of products, taking into consideration all aspects of supply chain and manufacturing?
  • How does this trickle down to hidden costs in bio-diversity impacts such as land use disruption, over-consumption of water resources (it takes 1,500 gallons of water to produce one 16 oz. steak) and harmful farming practices that destroy the ability of cropland to sequester carbon in the soil.
  • How will companies verify and validate their sustainability policies and commitments in a transparent and trustworthy way?
  • What aspects of sustainability performance and outcomes do core customers care about the most?
  • How should sustainability bona fides best be conveyed to a company’s key audiences and stakeholders?

For our part, Emergent sees a food culture transformation on the horizon that will change what consumers believe about where food should come from, how it is made and what they should buy.

To help companies better assess and explore the right path to sustainable practices and climate readiness, we have created the Brand Sustainability Solution report as a guide to the key issues and direction on strategies to solve.

You can download your complimentary copy here.

To secure a snapshot of where your climate sustainability readiness stands today, take the five-minute free Brand Sustainability Readiness survey here.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Climate conscious consumption

Now on Deck: Emergence of Climate-Conscious Consumption

July 12th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, change, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Healthy Living, Navigation, Sustainability 0 comments on “Now on Deck: Emergence of Climate-Conscious Consumption”

Mainstream consumers aligning for greater good

Sustainability concerns could not be a hotter topic right now. The temperature continues to rise as consumers learn there’s a connection between their purchase decisions and climate impacts. According to Hartman Group Sustainability 2021 trend research report, the issue was already gaining significant momentum prior to the pandemic. It is virtually on fire now as environmental concerns have become attached to purchase motivations for mainstream consumers — a new form of climate-conscious consumption.

  • To help you determine where your company is on the sustainability and climate readiness continuum, we’ve created a simple self-assessment tool you can access, offered later in this article.

Hartman characterizes this as a form of ‘secular spirituality’ – a moral system that operates as a guide to decision making now focused on the greater good. Consumer sentiment on environmental and social wellbeing therefore should not be underestimated by brand marketers.

Helping drive this cultural sea change is increased media coverage tracing the impact of food and beverage consumption to the environment, personal health, safety and planetary security. This is occurring in parallel with a potent cocktail of climate anxiety and concerns over a legacy of regressive public environmental policies, that now serves to motivate consumer desire for real change.

We’re witnessing a causal link emerge in consumer sentiments between everyday life (I bought a hamburger) and bigger problems ahead (it took 600 gallons of water, increasingly scarce land resources, toxic methane released into the air, and two years to make that hamburger). The growing imperative is urgent action needed to stem the tide and get ahead of global warming impacts on life before our environment reaches a point of no return.

What’s telling is the move from fringe to the center. At one time so called “green” concerns sat on the periphery – important to a narrow audience of climate advocates. Now, this has migrated into the mainstream, likely because people are increasingly confronted with global warming impacts right in their front yard – Seattle at 116 degrees in June? Absolutely historic.

As evidence of this transition: Hartman found that 51% of consumers say they purchase sustainable products specifically because they are better for the environment – that’s up 17 points from 2017 to 2019.

Progressive brands see this and will get ahead of it

What does sustainability and climate readiness look like? How should brands behave in an environment when consumers want to make pound-for-pound comparisons and seek transparency on just how climate positive a brand is?

Carbon footprint is about to become a defining tool in assessing environmental faithfulness. Yet there is no recognized umbrella benchmark for how this should be measured and calculated. Until industry associations coalesce around a standard set of rules for sustainability science and data, its likely to feel a bit like the wild west, with third-party category expert climate sheriffs holding court.

Emergent isn’t standing on the sidelines. We’ve already weighed in on the climate challenge with our Brand Sustainability Solution program. The first-of-its-kind suite of services integrates scientific carbon footprint assessment with consumer insight research to determine which areas of climate positive behavior are most important to a brand’s user base; and marries the outcomes with a suite of marketing communications tools intended to help a company convey its sustainability story and climate policy bona fides.

Our consumer insight research partner, Brand Experience Group, has already completed a study that makes a clear case for the business benefits of strengthening sustainability commitments – and found evidence that failure to do so will create a long-term drag on brand growth and profits.

Shift in responsibility for sustainability action to companies

For years the consensus among consumers was environmental solutions were an individual choice and responsibility. Now that perception has moved and people largely see companies as responsible for creating measurable change, mainly because they are viewed as key actors in the sustainability problem.

Hartman’s research charted the shift on who bears responsibility for sustainability and climate mitigation policies to large corporations. They are on top at 86% followed by government at 71% and individuals now at 58% – down from 73% a few years ago.

This is a moment in time when companies have an opportunity to take a leadership position on a rapidly developing cultural change that will impact their brand value proposition. Five key directional questions to consider:

  1. Have you conducted an independent, third-party Carbon Footprint to better understand climate impacts and to inform mitigation efforts?

2. Have you conducted consumer insight research to better understand how climate and sustainability concerns impact your core users’ behaviors and product choices?

3. Do you have a clear understanding of which sustainability issues (e.g. climate change, pollution of the oceans, animal welfare) are most motivating for your users?

4. Do you have a clear understanding of where your Sustainability efforts rank among competitors in your relevant categories (ahead of or lagging behind)?

5. Are you confident your brands’ sustainability narratives enhance consumer preference and choice?

These and other questions form the guideposts of sustainability and climate readiness. If you’re wondering how your company stacks up on progressive sustainability programs and policies, you can take our simple online assessment questionnaire. In just five minutes we can help you secure a snapshot of where your organization sits today on climate readiness.

Use this link to take the confidential online sustainability readiness questionnaire. Once submitted we will come back to you with a customized outcome report, complete with readiness scoring. Both the questionnaire and follow-up results report are complimentary.

It’s better to know where you are now and be proactive rather than wait for the sustainability boom to drop and find yourself in the unenviable place of reacting and playing catch-up.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Collab to solve climate threat

Announcing the First Real Answer to Climate and Brand Sustainability Challenges

June 25th, 2021 Posted by brand strategy, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, change, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Consumer insight, Food Trend, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Higher Purpose, retail brand relevance, Sustainability, Transparency 0 comments on “Announcing the First Real Answer to Climate and Brand Sustainability Challenges”

How to successfully address sustainability demands for food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers

Food, beverage and lifestyle categories are ground zero in a major culture shift now underway. It will redefine the meaning of sustainability and recast the value proposition for nearly every brand and retailer in the business.

The rapid arrival of a new consumer culture shift demands greater accountability on climate impact and verifiable solutions to greenhouse gas threats. New research confirms not only is this a priority for consumers on the path to purchase, it also has a direct impact on food, beverage and lifestyle brand and retailer growth outcomes. 

Are you prepared – ready to embrace the sea change and reap the rewards from operating consistently with consumer attitude and preference shifts on sustainability?

Download our new report on the first Brand Sustainability Solution. Learn what the future looks like and how to solve the challenges ahead for your brand and business.


Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Greenhouse gas creator stands next to greenhouse gas eliminator

Tale of True Sustainability and its Arch Nemesis Greenwashing

June 7th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, Carbon footprint, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Consumer insight, Greenwashing, Product design 0 comments on “Tale of True Sustainability and its Arch Nemesis Greenwashing”

Vulnerability for climate chasers is escalating…

What sustainability stands for is expanding and the process to earn credit for acting sustainably has taken on a new look.  Here, we examine how to prevent the risk of unintentional greenwashing. This article sheds light on what may well be the key driver of marketplace competitive advantage for progressive brands in the year ahead.

What is the most popular word in modern CPG and retail marketing right now? Sustainability. It is invoked, announced, trumpeted, billboarded, spotlighted and worn like a new suit of climate- positivity relevance. If you’re not sustainable, what are you? Most assuredly not enough.

Sustainability may also be one of the most misappropriated terms in modern CPG and retail marketing. What’s on the horizon is significant vulnerability for brands and businesses that fail to dial in the infrastructure and bona fides that make sustainability claims real and trustworthy. As the marketplace moves to embrace this issue more fully, scrutiny levels will intensify as stakeholders, investors and consumers become increasingly knowledgeable about what is authentically working to reduce the impact of climate damage from what isn’t.

The sustainability goal posts are moving

At one time sustainability was focused primarily on fossil fuel consumption and other forms of non-renewable energy and water use. Now we’ve learned that agriculture and meat production are the second largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and thus food choices actually have a climate impact. The rigor required to address climate impact assessments and policies has gone way past using “earth-friendly” straws in a beverage or putting solar panels on the roof of the office building.

The pathway to verified and validated sustainability behavior is connected directly to overall carbon footprint and is paved with science, data and comprehensive analysis of:

  • Brand higher purpose
  • Processes and production
  • Supply chain and ingredient standards
  • Distribution systems, transportation and in-market behaviors
  • Over-consumption of land, water and non-renewable energy
  • Physical facility operations
  • Employment policies and practices

The goal of this thorough examination is assessing a product’s carbon impact to the planet. In the near future carbon footprint scoring will come to product labels. Consumers want to purchase products that are mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and will need help at the shelf to make accurate comparisons.

Eco-product design

Similarly, these analytical tools can be deployed to conduct an environmental evaluation of product design. This helps brands determine where they can swap out high carbon ingredients, source from deforestation-free suppliers, and cut down on unnecessary waste all while evaluating cutting-edge packaging solutions.

Why all of this matters to your immediate future

Emergent’s consumer insight research partner Brand Experience Group (BXG) recently conducted a ground-breaking study on consumer attitudes about sustainability. The report found a significant rise in the number of consumers who will hold brands accountable for sustainability practices and behaviors.

  • 34% are committed or passionate about sustainability claims and policies
  • 32% are concerned about the issue and paying attention to it

Segments showing the highest degree of sustainability concerns skew younger in the Millennial and Gen Z cohorts and reside mostly in higher income households.

Bottom line: these concerns are becoming widely held in a significant swath of the population and continue to grow.

Greenwashing risks

Brands that invoke climate faithfulness while taking a half-baked stance on managing emissions are risking marketplace disruption. We are all living in a challenging media environment where posers are likely to be outed.

That’s why Emergent has come together with BXG and Informed Sustainability Consulting to create the first fully integrated brand sustainability services program that:

  • Marries scientific carbon footprint analysis with consumer insight research guidance on user attitudes and opinions
  • To inform a comprehensive suite of brand communications tools that help businesses convey their sustainability story to consumers and stakeholders

Use this link to ask any questions, share your thoughts or request a preview of an upcoming special report on climate risk assessment and communications.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Climate activism

Climate Culture Change is Coming

April 26th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, consumer behavior, Consumer insight 0 comments on “Climate Culture Change is Coming”

Are you prepared for the shift in consumer demands?

  • Advancing greenhouse gas (GHG) levels.
  • Accelerating impacts of climate change.
  • Our GHG emission-heavy meat and agricultural production system.
  • Evolving consumer expectations and food choices linked to climate outcomes.
  • Global food scarcity.
  • Are all these issues inter-connected? Yes.
  • Is the consumer about to grasp this and connect these dots?


  • Food, beverage and lifestyle categories are ground zero on a major culture shift now underway that redefines the meaning of sustainability and will recast the value proposition for nearly every brand in the business.

Can you see it coming?

You already know sustainability has been a growing issue for consumers. However, as a purchase consideration sustainability is morphing to focus on climate threat impacts. This will change the value proposition and strength vs. weakness of brands both CPG and retail. A new class of Eco-Sumer is emerging that sees the checkout counter as a voting booth to signal their demand for change and flag their activism on these vital quality of life issues. Their significant purchasing power will put pressure on companies to act. Are they on your strategic planning radar?

The early stages of change

Sustainability has moved past its teenage years and is maturing. In 2018 Nielsen predicted consumers would spend $150 billion on “eco-friendly” products by 2021. However, the sands of adoption are shifting underneath as the rapidly rising consumer concern about agriculture and food production’s link to GHG emissions gets traction.

Soon the consumer will come to understand that agriculture is the second leading producer of greenhouse gas. Specifically, meat production accounts for 65 percent of the world’s nitrous oxide, a gas with a global warming impact 296 times greater per pound than carbon dioxide. What’s more, total emissions from agriculture are forecasted to grow 80 percent by 2050 due to a significant increase in demand for meat and dairy products.

Emergent’s research barometer is tracking the evolution and expansion of consumer sentiment on sustainability. This issue increasingly has bearing on brand value propositions. The consumer view of sustainability’s relevance has already expanded to include assessments of transparency, ingredient sourcing, food safety, animal welfare, employee treatment and now carbon footprint. Important for you to consider: this is quickly becoming a standard yardstick of product and retail experience quality.

Culture shift leads to behavior shift

According to Forrester research, half of U.S. adults are operating now in various shades of green and are demanding accountability from brands and retailers, while 32 percent of consumers are going out of their way to purchase brands that are dedicated to reducing climate impact.

Meanwhile the Edelman Trust Barometer reports that 72 percent of consumers are concerned about climate chaos and 40 percent are even fearful of it. The Pandemic has shined a spotlight on vulnerability between human health and the ongoing destruction of our wildlife eco-system which helps tamp down disease spread as more and more land is repurposed for industrial agriculture and meat production. Rainforest, the world’s largest carbon sink, is disappearing at the rate of an acre a second for this reason.

A 2019 Kearney study concluded 71 percent of consumers take protecting the environment into consideration when shopping. By mid 2020 that number had run up to 83 percent. With increased awareness of our food systems’ culpability in climate threat, consumers will be looking for guidance and direction from brands on their efforts to mitigate the problem.

Increasingly popular “Net Zero” commitments are only the beginning. Consumers will soon begin to scrutinize those moves, looking for consistency across the waterfront of company operations not only on energy and water use, but also how the food ingredient supply chain is factored into carbon footprint.

  • Climate and sustainability initiatives, commitments, practices and standards are about to become a launch pad for business competitive advantage.

The coming moment of truth: shopping friction

How do brands and retailers help consumers make a sustainability decision? There is no credible mechanism for determining how climate positive a brand or retailer is. When rules are drawn up internally by companies, the metrics applied around different definitions of climate impact will inevitably vary brand to brand.

Lack of any central oversight or common benchmarks makes consistency nearly impossible to achieve. Consumers are going to have a hard time assessing which claims are meaningful from those that are not. When a best practices vacuum like this exists, there will always be third parties wading in to fill it. Pundits and self-styled experts will offer their views on good vs. bad and so the race to secure credible guidance will begin.

  • We know consumer expectations are already on the rise. Now is the time to create a set of industry-wide standards on carbon footprint and define which elements of performance need to be included in assessing climate impact scores.

First step: holistic analysis

This isn’t just about clean energy. Or mitigating water resource over-use. A 360-degree evaluation will be required to consider supply chain, ingredients standards, operations, manufacturing, company culture, employee policies, brand higher purpose, cause relationships, plus the communication of standards to stakeholders, consumers, retailers and investors.

Investor and regulatory change coming

The Kearney study also revealed that 77 percent of investors now see climate change as a consideration in their valuation decisions. Further 79 percent of investors believe that regulatory changes will be a factor in their decision-making over the next three years.

There’s no question the new Administration is making climate a top priority and public policy will favor companies that get ahead of this. The Securities and Exchange Commission has already set up a task force to monitor ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) misconduct of publicly traded companies. At some point there will be regulations aimed directly at disclosing emissions.

Where to go from here

It’s time for the Climate Audit, a thorough evaluation of company operations, good and bad, that contribute to (or remove) emissions either directly or through vendors, distribution and supply chain.

  • Greenwashing is going to be a key area of vulnerability for organizations that take a half-baked stance on emissions and simply try to ride the wave of consumer sentiment by invoking climate faithfulness. Half measures are likely to be exposed so it is important to get it right and leave no stone unturned in evaluating where emissions might come from and how best to turn it down or off.

The rationale for these changes and shifts is compelling:

“Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane levels in the atmosphere continued to rise in 2020, with CO2 level reaching their highest point in 3.6 million years, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The barrier was broken despite a reduction in expected emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Jordan Freiman, CBS News

This CBS report was startling given the slow-down in commuting and travel due to the pandemic. It underscores that GHG emissions from fossil-fueled transportation are still only a portion of contributing factors to global warming. Agriculture is a big one and getting bigger. This revelation will put food choice at the center of the bull’s eye for consumers who use their wallets and brand preferences to vote their values.

If you find this conversation meaningful and would like to discuss how climate impact can be properly and successfully addressed in your organization, use this link to open a conversation.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Climate change impacts consumer preferences

New climate-conscious consumer has a beef, are you ready?

February 9th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, Climatarian, Climate Change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, COVID-19, Differentiation, engagement, Greenhouse Gas, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Pandemic, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “New climate-conscious consumer has a beef, are you ready?”

Culture change impacts food and beverage brand relevance

There’s a new sheriff in food and beverage town now. A consumer on the hunt for climate- friendly choices. They have a hankering to use the checkout counter as a ballot box to vote their beliefs. Are you prepared for them? Just who is this new cohort rapidly gaining momentum?  As an audience of influencers and advocates how significant will their impact be on the future fortunes of food businesses and retailers in 2021?

Read on.

Five years ago, a great dot-connecting moment transpired when consumers determined that the quality of what they eat has a direct and tangible impact on the quality of their lives. Food retail saw a marked shift in shopping patterns to the perimeter fresh departments as preference for fresh, real food overtook the decades-long infatuation with convenient, inexpensive, highly processed packaged foods and snacks. The aftermath of this transformed ‘what does healthier mean’ calculus and fed the innovation skate ramp of new, entrepreneur created food products flooding the store. These super premium brands-with-deeper-meaning and made from higher quality, ethically sourced real food ingredients have captivated consumer attention and retail shelf space. How many brands of artisanal beef jerky are there now competing for a slice of the snack dollar?

We reminisce on this point just to remind us all that change comes quickly. Our collective goal as marketers is to stay ahead of these transformative shifts. Thus able to help define the state of the art for your brands, rather than scrambling to re-acquire relevance after observing share erosion in the quarterly results report.

Rise of the Climatarian

Another dot-connecting transition is underway. A growing number of bellwether consumers are grasping the connection between the food production system and its out-sized impact on greenhouse gas production plus the climate change threats that accompany it. According to our insight research partner Brand Experience Group, their ground-breaking study on sustainability, estimates the current number of consumers who are passionate about or committed to the importance of “sustainable consumption” at 34% and rising.

The role of meat production and industrial agriculture processes contributing to the planet’s warming is changing the food choice value proposition to invoke a claim that defines carbon footprint. While the word sustainable has gained traction in recent years as a formal player in marketing lexicon, it is acquiring a more specific meaning. Sustainability and climate change are getting married and we’re all invited to the reception.

What’s driving this? In his stellar New Yorker magazine feature “After Alarmism: The War on Climate Denial Has Been Won,” climate advocate David Wallace-Wells paints the picture.

“In California in 2020, twice as much land burned as had ever burned before in any year in the modern history of the state — five of the six biggest fires ever recorded. In Siberia, “zombie fires” smoldered anomalously all through the Arctic winter; in Brazil, a quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, was incinerated; in Australia, flames took the lives of 3 billion animals. All year, a planet transformed by the burning of carbon discharged what would have once been called portents of apocalypse.”

Increased media attention on the issue has circulated data revealing the significant top box role beef and lamb production have in methane creation. Global agriculture practices and meat collectively contribute more to climate threat than all fossil fuel transportation combined. The impact of climate on people and society is being played out in prime time through recurring news coverage of raging wildfires, droughts, super storms, increasing Hurricane impacts, melting glaciers, rising water levels and flooding worldwide.

We’re about to see a shift towards carbon footprint as a definer of sustainability. Those with an attractive, relevant brand story to tell are manifesting this attribute in product label scoring while legacy food and beverage companies swarm to announce “Net Zero” emission commitments. Meanwhile there will be growing scrutiny of supply chains to root out sources of greenhouse gas. The decarbonization of our food system is getting underway. Consumers will demand it. It will be juiced by new food technologies and a cohort of emerging brands that pioneer ways to create food without built-in climate deficits.

Digital innovation will be eclipsed by bio-degradable everything

Alongside global warming is a related developing trend – an innovation heat map swing from digital technology to significant advancements in bioengineering and biofabrication.  A complementary view of sustainability looks hard at the role of plastics and other trash dump materials in so many facets of our lives with a convincing argument that recycling isn’t the best answer. Creating products, packaging, even clothing, from materials that simply disappear harmlessly is exponentially better for the planet.

In 2019, nearly 500 million plastic toothbrushes were sold with the majority of them ending up in landfills and the ocean. They cannot be recycled. Since plastic was first mass-produced in the 1950’s, 9.1 billion tons of it has been created and landfilled – an astonishing 91% of this massive plastic tsunami isn’t recyclable, according to Fast Company magazine. On the toothbrush front, Colgate owns 30% of the entire category and in an effort to end the proliferation of plastic they are introducing “Keep” – the first planet-friendly brush that employs a reusable aluminum handle. The replaceable brush head is still plastic but the design represents an 80% reduction in plastic material use.

Steve and Nick Tidball’s Vollebak, a futuristic brand of men’s fashion, is re-writing the rules and process for clothing creation. Their plant and algae t-shirt is made from plant-based linen and wood pulp fibers decorated with ink from algae. The shirt can completely decompose in 12 weeks when tossed into the compost pile. A shirt that literally disappears. “Sustainability is easier to understand when it involves feeding your clothes to worms,” said founder Steve Tidball in an overview article on their technology showcased in The Future Normal newsletter.

Key to this coming movement of planet friendlier foods, products, processes and ingredients is a revealing focus on the impact of lifestyle and consumption habits on our planet’s health. The realization that what we buy is a reflection of our values rises as a functional and viable path to signal those preferences and beliefs. Consumers’ wallets are used to vote their preferences. This new path to purchase will require brands to look deeply across the organization to determine where improvements and changes can be made to align with this sea change.

Undoubtedly yet another generation of new brands will emerge with carbon footprint claims and planet-friendly packaging as the lead in their brand voice. More innovation is coming. There are, however, business challenges ahead for these upstarts.

  • What is the secret to scale-able and sustainable growth, the path to sales homeruns not base hits? We reveal it here.

80% of CPG start-ups will never get past $1 million in sales

Some new emerging brands have well-connected founders and are able to attract investment that creates resource advantages. “Money can buy distribution. It can buy advertising. It can buy huge field marketing events. But it can’t by consumer enthusiasm. It can’t buy cultural relevance for the brand’s attribute-outcome symbolism,” exhorts Dr. James Richardson, of Premium Growth Solutions.

After an initial, well-funded launch with a strong velocity report card, things start to stall or plateau. What’s wrong is often embedded in the product itself. It just isn’t that remarkable. Or, importantly a narrow, niched positioning causes the brand to stall. It simply runs past its ability to attract an audience sufficiently large enough to keep the velocities on a northward trajectory. Enthusiastic users, perhaps, but a narrow, smaller fan base nonetheless.

Scaling beyond the mid-range isn’t an outcome of more funding or the awareness that can buy. It is delivered by steering the brand towards the right and largest addressable market. Beyond Meat famously did not create a better vegan burger for vegans. They opened the aperture wide by casting themselves as a meat made from plants for meat lovers. They threw down the gauntlet of crave-able taste experience and asserted they were as good as a beef burger. Bold to be sure. The product delivered on its promise under that scrutiny.

The genius was casting a wide net to meat lovers and in doing so working to build relevance and resonance with a very big audience of meat department beef shoppers. It wasn’t because there was this giant standing pool of people representing themselves as “flexitarian.” No, instead they invoked meat lover and by that they meant anyone and everyone who loves hamburgers, the most popular sandwich on earth. The outcome was a rapid rise to hundreds of millions in sales.

Largest. Addressable. Market.

Don’t make vegan cheese for vegans. Instead craft extraordinary, delicious plant-based cheese for cheese lovers. A high taste bar to be sure, but then that’s what separates the extraordinary product innovation from the merely average.

Climate change and bioengineering will reshape the food, beverage and lifestyle brands business more quickly than anyone imagines. Venture capital and innovation will quickly chase these dreams. More higher-purpose brands will be invented. Some will be out-sized winners while some will remain small or fail altogether. The difference maker won’t be the size of the budget and the awareness that can acquire. Sound strategy will play a decisive role in the fortunes (or lack thereof) of these businesses based on the quality of the innovation itself, the size of its potential market and the alchemy of how and where its relevance is expressed.

If this thinking strikes a chord and you would like to brainstorm further the implications for your business, use this link to start an informal, no-charge conversation.

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.