Natural Foods and Mission-based Consumers

By Russ Stoddard / Jun 01, 2016

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We had our ears to the ground at Expo West this spring and came away with some interesting trend info regarding consumer values.

For those of you who don’t know, Expo West is the leading trade show in the natural, organic, and healthy products industry. If your idea of this industry is still stuck back in the day of Birkenstocks, tie-dyes and homemade granola, think again—in 2015 the industry grew nearly 10 percent over the prior year to $180 billion in sales.

Expo West: Natural Food Trends

Trends revealed at Expo West have a mighty big impact, and they’re often a harbinger of change across the mainstream consumer-purchasing spectrum—whether you’re into herbs and botanicals or not. (Remember when you thought “organic” was a niche item?)

At this year’s event, the Natural Marketing Institute and New Hope Network shared research centering on three macroeconomic trends shaping the natural foods market. The first two revolved around an increasing respect for ancient wisdom about foods (ancient grains, natural fats, fermentation, etc.) as well as an emerging trend of reframing food science to align with natural foods principles while assuaging consumer concerns

The value shopper is fast becoming a "values" shopper.

Mission-based Consumers Move from Value to Values-Based Purchasing

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  • Interesting stuff we’ll likely write about in the future, but the trend that really made our ears perk is an area we’ve been closely following the past few years: The value shopper is fast becoming a “values” shopper.

    Consumers are becoming sophisticated and using multiple filters in their food-purchasing consideration. They are increasingly conscious about the power they have to help others through the products they buy—from benefitting specific individuals to entire groups of people to distant geographies. What’s more, they’re not overwhelmed by but are emboldened by the realization that they can align with other conscious consumers at scale and can have a powerful and positive effect on the health and sustainability of the world.

    This research outlined three emerging sub-trends in the values arena:

    Mission-based brands:
    This study’s definition includes companies whose business model intentionally enables consumers to create social good through their purchases.

    Repurposed ingredients:
    Companies whose products are challenging our notions about waste through clever reuse that creates new life for unwanted materials.

    Ethical and sustainable protein:
    Conscious consumers are demanding animal and plant proteins that are humanely and sustainably raised, and companies are responding.

    The Benefits of Mission-based Brands

    Research revealed that mission-based brands as a class outperformed in terms of strong consumer purchasing intent and an exceptionally high probability of mainstream success.

    We found this especially encouraging for selfish reasons (we specialize in building brands for purpose-driven companies, so this is our sweet spot—and it’s growing) and for decidedly unselfish motivations—it’s a powerful signal that businesses and consumers can align their independent interests to collaborate on solutions for social and environmental problems.

    This is another valid, objective data point that further substantiates a greater body of market evidence. It also synchs with our experience as a B Corp and our expertise with food brands and mission-driven companies, our own primary research and extensive published insights, and—yes, go ahead and say it—our spidey-sense intuition of where things are headed.

    Good things all, as we’ve bet our company’s future on it.

    If you’d like to learn more about aligning your mission with consumer values, here are several blog posts that might interest you: “How Marketing Is Being Influenced by Intentional Values,” “Do Values Matter as a Marketing Differentiator?,” and “How Much Value is there in Values.” 

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    Russ Stoddard

    Russ started Oliver Russell in 1991. He’s committed his career (nearly 30 years) to social responsibility, first inside the corporate world and then as an entrepreneur who’s started four companies and five nonprofit causes. Russ is the author of "Rise Up - How to Build a Socially Conscious Business," and his creative work has been honored with local, regional, and national creative awards. These days, Russ focuses on brand strategy for clients, spreading the Certified B Corp love, and connecting kindred spirits to multiply social impact.

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