CPG Brands Should Lead With Consumer Benefits, Not Solely Sustainability — Insights From Expo West Panelists

To close the gap between consumers wanting and buying from sustainable brands, consider emphasizing how sustainability addresses core needs.

CPG Brands Should Lead With Consumer Benefits, Not Solely Sustainability — Insights From Expo West Panelists
Photo by Jeff Siepman / Unsplash

With more consumers caring about sustainability and wanting to see brands make a positive impact, you might think it makes sense to put climate claims front and center on consumer packaged goods. However, many brands have noticed an apparent disconnect between what consumers say and what consumers do.

BCG research found that while 77% of global survey respondents said they were concerned about sustainability within the fresh and packaged food category, only 20% are taking the action of buying sustainable products.

Yet the issue isn’t necessarily that consumers are all talk. Instead, CPG brands might be missing the mark on how to reach consumers with sustainability messaging. Rather than making climate the focal point of your marketing, consider emphasizing consumer benefits first, with sustainability driving these benefits and providing an added bonus.

At the Expo West 2024 Climate Day, panelists shared the importance of highlighting how products benefit individuals, rather than leading with climate-oriented language and benefits.

Many consumers aren’t connecting with current sustainability marketing efforts because the messaging is presented as overly altruistic, explained Sophie Egan, director of strategy at Food for Climate League.

Talking about going zero-waste because the planet is counting on you might speak to a small segment of the population seeking products that help them fulfill a higher purpose, she said, but most people are focused on more fundamental needs, like just getting through the day-to-day challenge of feeding their families while staying on budget.

Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how many food brands aim right for the top of the pyramid with aspirational climate-oriented messaging, rather than focusing on more foundational needs.

“We think [consumers] actually do care about climate, they just don't care as much as they care about other core needs. And so the more that you can connect climate-smart food choices to these other core needs, the greater chance you have of reaching a greater swath of the population,” said Egan.

A version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs
A version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs

For example, instead of trying to convince consumers to buy a product because it’s vegan, which can have associated climate benefits, consider specifying how a product’s use of plant-based ingredients might mean that it has lower cholesterol than a previous formulation. Or maybe using regenerative organic ingredients creates more flavor, as some claim. 

Food consumers prioritize taste, cost, and convenience above sustainability, said Charlotte Vallaeys, natural and organic associate expert at General Mills. “They're also going to prioritize good-for-me benefits over the good-for-us or better-for-the-planet benefits.”

“That’s not to say that people don't care. Most consumers do care. Environmental messaging and on-pack claims will be a tiebreaker, but they're not going to be the main driver,” she added.

Prioritizing Good-for-You Benefits

In order to get the brand perception and consumer trust lifts that can come from sustainability, while also making a more direct impact on product sales, CPG brands should consider climate initiatives that pose more immediate benefits to consumers. That way, you can still make credible climate claims while growing sales.

Take Annie’s, a General Mills brand famous for its mac & cheese products.

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