Food sustainability and quality: challenging new opportunities bubble to the surface for food companies as the heat of debate is turned up

7 years, 3 months ago

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With consumers expecting more information and responsible behavior. By Andrea Cornelli.



Food has become more and more central in our lives. It’s a concentration of complex cultural meanings. As the latest research underlines, food experiences are incorporating new values such as taste, conviviality, well-being, sustainability.
 
The way we eat is changing significantly for structural, demographic, ecological and cultural reasons. Due to this, consumers are asking the food industry and distribution chains to redesign purposes, roles, rules and good practices in the food sector.
 
So, how does economic and social crisis impact on the food scenario in our society? In terms of buying behaviors, there is more attention to spending, thanks to a careful programming of purchases and a reduction of unnecessary expenses. Alongside, we see increased competition among brands and products, with a reduction of brand loyalty in favor of private labels. 
 
New food habits are being invented. People ask for higher quality food in supermarkets and superstores. But at the same time, consumers tend to use more "leftovers", rediscovering best food practice from grandparents and parents. Chefs are becoming the new protagonists on the food stage, stars with an increasingly influential rule on public opinion as never seen before.
 
Yet chefs are not the only new actors on the scene: public institutions, municipalities and local health authorities, food companies, pharmaceutical research, NGO, associations for environmental issues and sustainability, schools, territory associations to promote typical and local products are all involved.
 
Sustainability and solidarity
 
Sustainability is an emerging value about which consumers are increasingly aware; in terms of health and impact on environment, transparency in communication, link to territory, food culture, solidarity. Crisis stimulates in people personal behaviors of solidarity and consequently consumers demand that companies and brands act in the same way. 
 
Food companies are expected to behave more like NGO’s. There are growing expectations for them to be a change-agent, social advocate, educator, and convener. To a growing segment of the population, food production and sales are simply ‘tools’ or a means to achieving higher roles in society.
 
In the food model, sustainable means also healthy quantitative reductions in the food we eat and a greater attention on cutting out waste. Nevertheless, healthy food, attentive to the environment, respecting local cultures and traditions, allows people to enjoy positive experiences: sustainability is therefore a factor for a better quality of the "food experience".
 
Rebuilding relevance
 
What do consumers ask of food companies? More than ever, brands and businesses must demonstrate they are not ‘tone-deaf’ to consumer expectations. By tapping into growing desires worldwide for transparency, safety assurance and healthy attributes, brands and the corporations behind them have an opportunity to rebuild relevance against competitors by earning trust, respect and reputational value to justify a higher price and shareholder value.
 
Of course, consumers want to be informed and correctly oriented in their choices. Nowadays the most responsible companies have acquired a credibility that consumers recognize and share. This element can strengthen the alliance with the consumer and be transformed into a long-term competitive advantage.  
 
This very interesting element is confirmed by a recent survey Ketchum conducted among consumers at an international level. The insights that emerged from the survey results paint a picture of consumers wanting "more":  more information, more choices, more accountability, more control.
 
One main global request to the industry is for food safety: almost 7 consumers out of 10 consider it to be a top priority.
 
A change of rules
 
To respond to these emerging needs, food corporations have to change their rules. They have to set new goals, such as considering the entire circle of food – from production, through distribution, promotion, consumption, post-consumption, recycle...to a new cycle – establishing a dialogue with all the actors to design and promote select products that are in tune with new needs and food trends.
 
A great opportunity to underline the circularity of food will be Milan Expo 2015, "Feeding the Planet, Energy for life", an extraordinary occasion to share experiences about what the public sector, companies, science, nutritional research and technology are developing within the food scenario. It represents a global, cultural, educational and scientific event to explore new solutions linked to the global food challenge and sustainable development.
 
The theme of the Expo "Feeding the planet, energy for life" intends to promote effective answers to  the complex problems of food and human nutrition, both in terms of food safety (clean, healthy and safe food and water) and of food security (sufficient and easily accessible food for all the peoples of the world). It represents the largest worldwide event ever organized to unite countries, institutions and citizens around the world to discuss food production, availability and safety, nutrition and the culture of food. Global events like EXPO Milano 2015 require an integrated vision of the different business, communication and relational opportunities, as well as a wide range of specific skills in the areas of food, sustainability, wellness, innovation, social capital and engagement. 
 
To seize this unique opportunity, Ketchum Italy recently launched the  "Expo 2015 VALUE", a project desk with dedicated staff with the aim of assisting participating Countries, public enterprises and private companies in the development and fulfillment of their communication strategies and in the organization of events within the Milan Expo 2015. In order to leverage this joint operation, Ketchum Italy has also developed a dedicated website,www.expo2015value.com.
 
The experience of Milan Expo represents for all of us a great opportunity to celebrate Italian excellence in the food business and sustainable policies in the world. We are committed to bringing to general attention the values driving the Italian entrepreneurial spirit that contribute to creating the confidence to look at the future with a renewed energy. 
 
 
Thought Leader Profile
Andrea Cornelli is CEO of Ketchum Italy. Sources for this article are, "Gli Italiani e il cibo. Seminario Food GFK Eurisko", December, 2012; and "Food 2020, the consumer as a CEO", Ketchum, July 2011.
 

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Andrea Cornelli

Andrea Cornelli is CEO of Ketchum Italy. Sources for this article are, “Gli Italiani e il cibo. Seminario Food GFK Eurisko”, December, 2012; and “Food 2020, the consumer as a CEO”, Ketchum, July 2011.

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