- It’s no longer enough to provide delicious food and drink, says Sally-Jayne Wright. We need to raise money for good causes, prevent food waste and treat suppliers fairly
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Earlier this year, the makers of Yorkshire Provender soups teamed up with the national youth homelessness charity, Centrepoint, and Waitrose to run the Big Broth competition. They asked for new recipes and promised to give 20p from the sale of every carton of the winning soup to Centrepoint. The producers of SNACT fruit bars aim to reduce the estimated 1.4m a year edible bananas that go to waste in the UK. The founder of veg box business, Riverford Organic Farmers, was so determined not to exploit his Fairtrade pineapple growers, he flew to West Africa to make sure. All of the above are loud and clear about their intentions in a trend some have called constant conspicuous activism.
WHAT’S BEHIND IT?
Partly, a backlash against the greed-is-good culture and social media’s self-obsession. Instead of posting endless pictures about how wonderful they are, brands need
to show they care about others. In marketing speak, it is about ‘brand values’.
It can be hard to find something new to post on Instagram but updating your followers about a worthy campaign is a good place to start.
“You are nobody if you are not attached to a vital cause,” wrote former Vogue deputy editor, Emily Sheffield, somewhat cynically, in April’s London Evening Standard. “To be caught posting selfies without a healthy dose of virtuous hashtags renders you hopelessly out of date.”
WHAT’S IN IT FOR THE BRANDS?
Doing the right thing rewards them with publicity, likeability, extra marketing opportunities and increased sales. A company called One Difference is helping to “fund clean water products in the world’s poorest communities”. By buying a bottle of One spring water, consumers contribute to the goal ‘to raise £20m by 2020.’ The blurb on the bottle gives an update: “You’ve already helped us reach £15m, changing the lives of over three million people.”
SURELY IT’S NOT ALL JUST MARKETING HYPE?
Of course not. More and more food start-ups are owned by disenchanted City professionals who want to make a difference. Surveys show younger consumers are the most likely to care about issues of ethics, sustainability and helping others less fortunate. A US study into the organic snacks market found 67% of under-35s said they would pay more for ethically sourced grab-and-go products.
WHAT ETHICAL VENTURES HAVE INSPIRED YOU?
How about Good Food, a social enterprise deli in Catford, south-east London. It was crowdfunded by 350 local residents and businesses fed up with useful high street shops being converted into flats. All money spent in store is reinvested in the business and goes to pay the London Living Wage and to improve the service.
In 2018 Time Out readers voted it Most Loved Local Shop in Catford. Good Food makes fresh takeaway food in a zero-waste kitchen, uses local suppliers and is a Fare Share collection point.
Gullivers Farm Shop in east Dorset is part of a community trust. As well as selling organic and biodynamically grown fruit and veg, it provides work experience for adults with a learning disability.
WILL DOING THE RIGHT THING MAKE ME MORE PROFITABLE?
It won’t do any harm. Steenbergs Spices, near Harrogate and Riverford in Devon are two profitmaking companies where ethics and sustainability inform every business decision. This summer, Riverford became 74% owned by its employees to ensure it can’t be sold to venture capitalists and the brand values diluted.
HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS TREND WORK FOR US?
The run-up to Christmas is best for the sale of goods where a percentage goes to charity.
Combine philanthropy with publicity. If you’ve supported a charity, given a vulnerable adult work experience or donated leftover food to a hostel, make sure customers know.
Consumers link higher ethical and animal welfare standards with higher quality for which they expect to pay a little more. If your sales staff know the product’s background, they will be more persuasive. Sales of Origin Honey help to support dwindling bee populations. For every bag of Oryx desert salt sold, a percentage is donated to local communities in south Africa. Steenbergs Spices imports a saffron made by a women’s cooperative in Afghanistan. Harvesting the crocus stamens provides an alternative income source to growing poppies for opiates. Do your homework and if a product has a good story, tweet about it.
Whatever the scale of your contribution, share it on social media. It could be anything from your farm shop manager cutting off her ponytail for charity, to Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson filming his trip to the Fairtrade pineapple growers. Put it on YouTube and your website. Update followers on progress.
IS THIS TREND HERE TO STAY?
We hope so. Business can be a powerful force for good. Showing you care about more than just the bottom line will make customers like and trust you and improve customer relations. You never know, you may even sleep more soundly knowing you’ve made the world a better place.