IFT FIRST: demand for sustainability certifications increases | 2021-07-27
KANSAS CITY – From the Rainforest Alliance frog icon to the recently launched recycled certification seal, an increasing number of sustainability certifications are appearing on product labels.
A panel discussion at the Institute of Food Technologists’ FIRST Virtual Conference explored how these certifications guide purchasing decisions at all levels.
Data from 1% for the Planet in Burlington, Vermont, suggests that younger consumers may be more aware of sustainability certifications. In a 2020 brand awareness survey, he found that one in three Americans had heard of the organization, which requires certified companies to donate at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes.
âFor the 18-24 age group, it was 50%,â said Amanda Oenbring, associate director of regional 1% trade membership for the planet. âWithin this demographic, over 50% said that if they saw the logo, it would have a positive impact on their buying decision. This young generation is truly leading the way in voting with their money. “
It’s not just consumers who are influenced by sustainability certifications. Distributors and retailers are also driving demand, said Ben Gray, COO of the Denver-based Upcycled Food Association.
âWith climate change, with a growing population, with the scarcity of resourcesâ¦ big companies are seeing the writing on the wall for their supply chain. – Alex Morgan, The Rainforest Alliance
âIn fact, we’ve heard from retailers who want to be able to say they’re helping consumers with some of these solutions,â he said.
Demand is also driven by brands, added Alex Morgan, Head of Markets and Global Head of The Rainforest Alliance. The New York-based organization certifies products from farmers meeting various social, economic and environmental requirements.
âWe see brands driving a lot of their strategies around sustainability and sourcing commitments not necessarily because of consumers, but because in today’s global environment – with climate change, with a growing population, with the scarcity of resources – large companies see the writing on the wall for their supply chain, “Morgan said.” You have this growth in consumer demand combined with the goal of accountability retailers, then brands are sort of clamoring in the middle trying to understand where their wheat will come from or where their cocoa of the future will come from. â
With demand driven by a variety of stakeholders, a key question is how sustainability certification standards are defined and who can define them.
The Upcycled Food Association worked with multiple sources, including researchers, nonprofit groups, and members of the recycled food industry, to create its standards. He also took advice from sources who represented consumers and needed to see the certification as rigorous, Gray said.
âIt’s really important to get that consumer confidence up front,â he said. “Some of the challenges are balancing that rigor with what’s reasonable or doable in the industry right now.”
In addition to building consumer trust, the ability to be agile and evolve over time is key to setting meaningful standards, said Joe Dickson, Co-Founder and Head of Quality at Merryfield. The Boston-based Product Discovery and Rewards Platform helps shoppers find products that meet specific sustainability standards.
He cited the USDA organic seal as an example.
âThe government has taken that standard and given it a lot of rigor, credibility and enforcement, but it has also linked the definition of organic to how the bureaucracy works,â Dickson said. âThere have been so many recommendations and consensus positions from the regulated industry to evolve, improve and deepen the organic standard that simply have not been implemented by the USDA due to the way whose regulations they are discussingâ¦ It is now at this critical stage where consumer confidence begins to decline because it has not been able to adapt and evolve.