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Make your product more premium by helping the environment

Sustainability is a global megatrend that can significantly impact purchase decisions for everything from homes to cleaning supplies. In some cases—like homes and cars—there are financial benefits such as tax credits for choosing ecofriendly options. In other instances—like food and clothing—the reward to the consumer is knowing a purchase will help reduce our environmental footprint and therefore ourselves.

A Unilever survey of 20,000 consumers found that one-third of consumers prefer sustainable brands, and more than one-fifth of consumers will actively choose brands who advertise their commitment to protecting the environment by making clear sustainability claims on product packaging. Additionally, the Natural Marketing Institute and Nielsen found Millennials are willing to pay more for a product that is made in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way.

If you want to develop a product that helps your brand and the environment, here are some of the biggest sustainability trends in food and beverage to leverage for your next launch:

Ugly/Imperfect Produce: The ugly produce movement started in response to the approximately 25 to 40 percent of fruits and vegetables grown, processed, and transported in the United States that are being thrown away because of aesthetic imperfections like shape, color or size. Other factors contributing to produce waste include logistical inefficiencies such as being over-ordered and nearing shelf life. An increasing number of grocery stores and crop-sharing services are selling produce deemed “ugly” or “imperfect” to reduce waste, and brands like Misfit Juicery, Ugly Juice and Snact are using ugly produce in their ready-to-drink/eat products. 

Upcycled Ingredients: Brands also are repurposing ingredients beyond produce that would have previously been discarded in innovative ways. Cascara, an en vogue ingredient made popular last year by the Starbucks Cascara Latte, is made from the dried skins of the coffee cherry. Coffee farmers typically throw the skins away, but lately these fiber and antioxidant-rich skins have been used to make tea-based beverages in coffee shops and RTDs. Another brand, Canvas, utilizes nutrient-rich spent grain—which the global commercial beer industry produces over 8 billion pounds of each year—as the key ingredient in a line of plant-based barley beverages that aid with digestive health. Similarly, Toast in the United Kingdom found 44 percent of the country’s bread is thrown away and responded by upcycling bread that would otherwise be tossed as a grain for brewing beer.

Biodynamic: Farms that practice biodynamic agriculture produce organic products and aim to be self-contained and self-sustaining (using as few products as possible from outside the farm to produce crops). Other considerations of biodynamic agriculture include water conservation and maintaining crop vitality with medicinal plants, minerals, and composted animal manures from the farm. Products with a biodynamic certification are grown on a farm that has been certified by Demeter USA, a non-profit formed in 1985 to promote biodynamic agriculture.

Innovative Packaging: Some of the packaging claims consumers are familiar with include recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, and (most recently) edible. Plastic, although recyclable, has been criticized for being a pollutant that fills landfills and waterways. Biodegradable bottles made with resources like seaweed, mushroom, switch grass, pine bark and corn husks are being developed as a solution and are used by brands like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. Cardboard is another option for ecofriendly packaging because it’s recyclable and biodegrades at a much faster rate than other materials. Brands like Boxed Water and Rethink Water package their beverage in cardboard boxes, which, in addition to being biodegradable, is 100 percent bisphenol A. (BPA) and phthalate free making it appear a cleaner label. Other brands like Good4Good and Uncommon Coffee Roasters use compostable packaging (which is different than biodegradable because it is designed to end up in compost piles that are dependent on specific conditions like wind, sunlight, drainage). Finally, there’s edible packaging. Loliware has a line of biodegradable and edible cups made from ingredients like seaweed, cane sugar and tapioca syrup. Seaweed also is being used to create capsules filled with a single serving of a beverage (think fruit boba) that bursts in your mouth.

Public understanding of sustainability issues has significantly expanded thanks to mass media coverage, non-profit organizations, and outspoken celebrity advocates of environmental protection and waste reduction; the increase in awareness about our environmental footprint and how to promote change has given rise to consumer demand for sustainable products.

Is there a sustainability trend that caught your attention, or another that you think will gain notice in the food and beverage industry? I’d love to continue the conversation about sustainability trends more in depth. Feel free to email me at [email protected]

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