Operators, suppliers recognize importance of environmental, social and governance issues to consumers
Food companies have increasingly embraced issues related to gender and ethnic diversity, social justice, protecting the environment, and others, reflecting the growing consumer awareness around these topics.
Often referred to as corporate social responsibility, or CSR, these efforts have evolved to encompass a broader range of issues, and are increasingly described as environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. Many food companies and restaurants use CSR ideas and have established goals to make progress on CSR and ESG issues, often publishing them in comprehensive annual reports.
As part of these efforts, and food company and restaurant openness to CSR ideas, more companies are taking a public position on issues such as racial and gender discrimination, climate change, and other hot-button topics that motivate many consumers in their brand decisions.
“People are holding brands to a new standard and are asking them to be stewards of accountability,” says Jamie Gilpin, chief marketing officer at Sprout Social, which provides social media consulting and analytics for brands. “As we work to adapt to these new expectations, brands must be willing to speak out and answer the call.”
Sprout Social recently published new research on this subject in its 2022 Index Report. Among the findings, 71% of consumers say it's important for brands to take a stand on sensitive issues. This is especially true for Gen Z (73%) and millennials (77%).
The research also shows that the trend of consumers seeking brands that align with their own values is increasing. In 2022, 40% of consumers agreed that a brand’s alignment with their personal values was an important factor in choosing one brand over another. That compares with 23% of consumers who said that a brand’s alignment with personal values was important in 2021—a 74% increase in just the past year.
Starbucks seeks to lead by example
Among the companies that have long taken a stance on ESG issues is Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. The company offers encyclopedic disclosures on its website around such issues as human rights, corporate governance, ethical sourcing, supplier diversity, and environmental impact.
“We are proud of the progress we have made, and we remain rooted in the belief that we can lead through the lens of humanity, far beyond the pursuit of profit,” the company said in its 2021 Global Environmental & Social Impact Report.
The publication noted that the company began reporting on its social impact 20 year ago, when it pledged to “lead by example” on issues such as ensuring fair compensation for coffee farmers, the environmental impact of its business, and the impact it has on the communities where it operates.
The company’s latest initiatives include several efforts around sustainability and food industry eco-friendly design. These include efforts to minimize its environmental footprint, including adding more plant-based food options and experimenting with reusable drink containers.
Ben & Jerry’s social mission
Similarly, ice cream brand and scoop shop operator Ben & Jerry’s has also long incorporated social responsibility and restaurant CSR ideas into its core business plan.
“We have a progressive, nonpartisan social mission that seeks to meet human needs and eliminate injustices in our local, national and international communities by integrating these concerns in our day-to-day business activities,” Ben & Jerry's declares on its website.
The company seeks to take a vanguard position on hot-button topics that include voting rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, climate justice, and campaign finance reform. For example, rather than simply focusing on the impact that climate change has on the planet overall, Ben & Jerry’s zeroes in on what it describes as its disproportionate impact that climate change is having on developing countries and on minority communities in the U.S.
Ben & Jerry’s drives awareness of these issues among its customers, and encourages them to pledge their support for initiatives such as just-recovery.org, which called for solutions that promote “a just recovery and transition to a better future for those most in need” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mondelēz International embraces diversity and inclusion
Foodservice manufacturers such as Mondelēz International have also embraced the power that corporations have to take a stand on social justice issues and embrace sustainability, food industry eco-friendly design, and CSR ideas in their restaurants.
The newly established JBF Mondelēz International Scholarship Fund for Equity in Leadership, for example, seeks to elevate and encourage underrepresented groups in the foodservice industry and support students in their culinary careers. The scholarship is open to women-identifying and BIPOC individuals who are planning to enroll or are currently enrolled. Up to three scholarships of $10,000 will be granted.
The company’s OREO brand, meanwhile, has long advocated for diversity, equity and inclusion, with initiatives such its ongoing partnership with PFLAG National in support of LGBTQ+ individuals. The brand encourages people to show their support for LGBTQ+ people by gifting them with OREO Pride Packs, which are covered with words of encouragement.
“Our goal is to help make the world a more accepting, affirming and compassionate place,” the brand says on its website.
Mondelēz’s RITZ brand has also been a strong supporter of diversity, equity and inclusion. Its partnership with the It Gets Better Project, for example, aims to uplift, empower and connect LGBTQ+ youth, while its partnership with Hispanic Star showcases and amplifies the value and contributions of the Hispanic community to the U.S. RITZ also supports Invisible People, which fights to humanize homelessness by educating the public through storytelling, news and activism.
For more information about Mondelēz International’s efforts around ESG, visit Snacking Made Right
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