April 26, 2010
Consumers Focus on Sustainability
LAS VEGAS — Even though sustainability has been a topic of interest for more than a decade, the topic may need a “perfect storm” to thrust it to the top of consumer consciousness.
Jeff Dlott, president of Soquel, Calif.-based SureHarvest, said that more and more corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s are incorporating sustainability practices into their business strategies. Dlott spoke at the United Fresh Produce Sustainability Conference April 23.
The rise in profile of Amazon.com’s fresh division could create a highly targeted type of marketing opportunities for fresh produce, he said. Dlott acknowledged that online grocery buying hasn’t had a great track record so far, but he noted that Amazon.com purchased the assets of now defunct online retailer Webvan a couple of years ago and appears ready to make a substantial investment in the category.
He speculated one of the niche opportunities for online retailing will be promoting produce grown under sustainability standards.
Another factor that could influence in the growth in sustainability may be electronic coupons and mobile phone applications. In fact, The Nielsen Co. reported that Web redemption of coupons grew 263% in 2009.
Blackberry and iPhone applications may allow consumers to compare products based on prices and perhaps sustainability measures, in addition to receiving electronic coupons through cell phones.
“Market captains will seek deeper ways to connect to consumers, and sustainability information will be one more way to connect,” he said. “Consumers will have more options than ever to express their demand, search compare and buy.”
Food safety and traceability will become technology drivers for food companies and allow those companies to look inside their processes and find efficiencies.
Dlott predicts consumer and corporate use of information will lead to reaching back for information from the “first mile” or farm level.
“Who, what and where will be big,” Dlott said, and marketers can use consumer thirst for information to create “sticky” brands — ones that build loyalty among consumers.
In a question-and-answer session after Dlott’s presentation, Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, said there is an assumption that agriculture is not efficient and not sustainable, when in fact many growers have been farming for generations.
“I don’t accept that,” he said. “Is this a solution looking for a problem? I’m not convinced we have a problem.”
Dlott responded that consumers and buyers are creating demand in the marketplace for more evidence of sustainable practices on the farm and throughout the supply chain.