Wayzata, MN — As pressure mounts to improve the sustainability of food production systems, consumers are pushing brands to prioritize responsible and sustainable ingredient sourcing, supply chain traceability and transparent communication on impact. At first blush, these can seem like daunting challenges.
The good news is that investments that support greater sustainability in the first mile — the fields where raw materials are grown — can create opportunities in the last mile. It’s a perfect example of how doing good can also result in brands doing well, as both retailers and consumers desire products that support a broader purpose.
This is especially evident in the cocoa and chocolate sector, where Cargill has conducted proprietary research that finds seven in 10 global consumers say sustainability influences their cocoa and chocolate product purchase decisions. For years, taste and price were the twin pillars holding sway over consumers’ grocery carts, but today, it’s becoming a three-legged stool, as the impact of values-based purchasing steadily climbs in importance.
Consumers aren’t just giving lip service to sustainability; it is increasingly a factor in their purchase decisions. Among North American shoppers, the research finds one in two consumers say sustainability impacts their chocolate product purchase decisions, and six in 10 are drawn to cocoa sustainability messaging on product packaging. Even more enlightening, half indicate they would be willing to pay more for chocolate products made with 100 percent sustainable cocoa.
Further, this is no passing fad. Globally, most survey participants indicated sustainability had become more important during the past year, with nearly seven in 10 citing “an increasing responsibility to protect the planet and human rights” as the top reason. Of particular importance for food and beverage manufacturers, those concerns extend to the brand level, with most consumers reporting that a brand’s commitment to sustainability has become more important in the past 12 months.
All this suggests that consumers’ sustainability considerations will only grow in importance. Cargill research also offers insight into the issues consumers prioritize most — forest conservation, child protection, women’s empowerment and farming household incomes. To be sure, these are complex topics to deliver against, impacted by multiple factors that will require collaboration from stakeholders throughout the sector to address, but it also highlights consumers’ growing knowledge base around sustainability considerations related to the products they buy, and drives home the importance of credible, sustainable ingredient sourcing.
Getting To The Source
Ingredients procured from traceable supply chains, which work on sustainability issues, offer peace of mind for brands, retailers and consumers.
Fortunately, investments by ingredient suppliers in advanced technology — from geospatial mapping to bar coding to mobile money payments — are making it easier to affirm where, how and who produced the cocoa beans and other raw materials essential to indulgent, consumer-pleasing finished goods.
In the cocoa industry, third-party certification solutions such as The Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade Foundation have long offered heightened assurance to brands. These independent bodies help further verify and validate the sustainability work being done on the ground, lending greater credibility to claims and signaling to brands and consumers that the resulting cocoa was produced in compliance with their sustainability standards.
For those seeking greater visibility into where their cocoa comes from, some suppliers go a step further, offering beans sourced directly from their known and trusted grower networks, thus traceable. Cargill’s offering, Cocoa Promise, relies on layers of on-and-off field verification to help assure it meets sustainability requirements and through its sustainability premium, enables brands to help improve the livelihoods of cocoa-farming households.
Transparency Builds Trust
That leads naturally into the next component — transparency — which serves as the cornerstone for earning trust. Consumers and purpose-led brands want assurance their chocolate was made in ways that align with their values. In response, ingredient suppliers are providing dashboards, ESG reports and even digital portals that serve as a central hub for sustainability metrics, all in an attempt to open a window into the cocoa supply chain. The best of these platforms gives customers clear and robust information on where cocoa comes from, how it is produced and how sustainability investments are supporting improvements.
It is amazing just how much information is available. Cargill, for example, through its CocoaWise digital portal, enables customers to track the origin of sustainable cocoa ingredient and chocolate purchases, monitor the progress and impacts associated with sustainability investments and even highlights the carbon footprint of its products. As more suppliers bring this level of transparency online, it gives customers greater confidence that their cocoa was sourced in an ethical and sustainable manner.
Attention to sourcing, traceability and transparency are important steps, but there are also opportunities for brands to go further, investing directly in sustainability initiatives that align with their brand mission — addressing livelihood diversification, women’s empowerment, children’s education and agroforestry to restore forests, for instance. These efforts will have the greatest impact if they are done in collaboration with others. There’s an African saying that sums this up well: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Suppliers with teams on the ground in cocoa-origin countries are often natural partners for these purpose-driven efforts.
Telling Your Story
That brings us to the last piece — sharing your story. However you choose to live out your sustainability ambitions, tell consumers about the impact you’re making. Consumers are naturally drawn to brands that are making a difference. They are more likely to trust a purpose-led brand, purchase their products and recommend them to others. Given our deep associations with chocolate, it seems likely those benefits are only amplified with this much-loved ingredient.
Cocoa and chocolate are synonymous with celebrations, indulgences and unbridled joy. They’re also challenged by a supply chain with real environmental, social and economic concerns. But embracing sustainable sourcing practices, insisting on transparent and traceable supply chains and collaborating to bring impactful change, can lay the foundation for a compelling brand story. It’s a story that matters to the farmers who cultivate and harvest cocoa beans, to their families and the communities where they live, to the forests we depend on, and to the consumers who choose your products. Doing good really does translate into doing well.
Contributor Info: Kate Clancy is Cargill Inc.’s group sustainability director of cocoa and chocolate. In this role, she leads The Cargill Cocoa Promise, the cornerstone of the company’s cocoa sustainability efforts in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, Indonesia, Brazil and more recently, Ecuador. She can be reached at [email protected].