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The coming war on ingredients

May 28, 2007

For years, the Hartman Group has been one of the country’s leading market research authorities on the consumers’ relationship with all things natural and green. They recently published a report on “Sustainability”.

Firstly, they researched the term itself and found it has little meaning for consumers.

“While the results of our research show that among everyday consumers the term “sustainability” is not widely used, not widely understood, and not very useful in terms of consumer product marketing, our findings clearly show that a cultural shift is taking place in terms of consumer awareness, acceptance and practices that relate to this term. Specifically there is a convergence between consumer trends in health and wellness and the broad scale use of the term “sustainability” by industry, the media and public interest stakeholders. From a marketing perspective, the umbrella term “sustainability” may be of little help to selling specific products (most consumers still are not currently going shopping saying to themselves, “I think I’ll buy sustainably today”), but many of the concepts found within “sustainability” have the ability to resonate powerfully with certain segments of the consumer market.

Hartman also identified relevant consumer segments.

“Consumers within the World of Sustainability have different behavioral and emotional mindsets when it comes to how intensely they are involved with sustainable beliefs and activities, including orientations toward packaging, recycling and corporate transparency. Consumers at the “Periphery” of the World of Sustainability (16 percent of the population) tend to concentrate their awareness of risks on their personal lives and bodies, while those consumers most active in the world of sustainability at the “Core” (also 16 percent of the population) tend to extend their risk awareness outward from their bodies to broader environments ranging from their community to globally. In between periphery and core consumers with a sustainability consciousness, are Mid-level consumers, who comprise a substantial 60 percent of Americans. While they tend to focus on risks to the body, they also examine risks to their surroundings at home as well as in society.”

Interestingly, the starting point for any individual’s focus on the bigger issues starts with the most personal of all, what they are doing to and putting into their own bodies.

This is the reason why food safety and ingredients are becoming such a major issue for brands. We’ve seen it with E-Coli and spinach, with the bans on trans-fats, the research done by the Silent Spring Institute to identify 216 chemicals that cause breast tumors in animals and in the new “hot” issue about sodium benzoate in soda.

Influx believes that these events will trigger a rigorous auditing process of our food supply, lead by pressure groups and scientists to weed out harmful ingredients. Obviously, for brands, this is easier said than done, many of the ingredients are used to preserve shelf life. However, brands have the option of either standing by on the sidelines and waiting, while more “natural” competitors starting taking share or start taking steps themselves.

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