Over the long weekend I found myself distracted by a video circulating on social media aimed at encouraging people to boycott toothpaste that comes in a box. According to the statistics, 900,000,000 toothpaste boxes are thrown out each year in the USA alone and the only real purpose they serve is to make the product look better.
The problem raised was that this is contributing to excessive waste. So the questions posed were 'why do we need it?' and ‘who can change this?’
The story goes that in Iceland, consumer concern about the impact of excessive packaging on the environment ultimately lead to a change in people’s toothpaste buying habits. Now, 90% of toothpaste tubes bought in Iceland come without a box.
While toothpaste may not have much to do with food – although it is good practise to follow your dentists advice and clean your teeth after eating - the point is that the campaign to boycott toothpaste in a box is symbolic of rising consumer consciousness about the impact our habits are having on the planet.
It also highlights how this rising consciousness affects consumer buying habits and if we can predict change, it opens up the opportunity to lead it, rather than to simply follow.
Currently there is a shift from a place of awareness about previously unconscious but unhelpful habits, to one of action. This action in turn is leading to change. Packaging is just one example.
In the area of food, the rise of a more mindful consumer is also driving change in ingredient labeling, product sourcing, food delivery, communications and marketing practises to name a few.
As we head into 2019 and consider the issues on consumers minds, the theme of change will feature highly and the ability to lead change will provide future focused food businesses with the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage.
In fact research by Deloitte assessing the characteristics of leaders making progress today, found "Social Supers" - those leading businesses that are doing well by doing good - were one of the top four personas confident in their ability to handle the challenges that lay ahead.
Mobilised by an innate desire to do good, consumers will be attracted to businesses that can demonstrate a social conscious when it comes to food production and consumption.
The desire to align ourselves with businesses that are seen as contributing to the greater good is highlighted by Robert Greene in his new book The Laws of Human Nature. Greene points out that it is natural human behaviour to comfort ourselves daily about the moral nature of our actions.
We like to think we are good citizens - that we are good team members, we treat people well, we help the right causes and that others will see us in a good light.
It is this law of human nature that highlights the business opportunity for leading change in 2019.
To build on our desire to feel good about ourselves and to take actions that reinforce this, the opportunity exists to review business practises through a lens of doing good - of looking for opportunities to make changes that will improve the health and nutritional quality of our products, and/or the food system that sits behind and beyond it.
Contributing to the greater good draws consumers toward us. It reinforces their own self perceptions about doing good, and being part of a larger cause that is easy to participate in.
Food is a major contributor to personal and planetary health, it plays a role in social connection and the preservation of cultural identity. There are many avenues for brands and businesses to tackle, providing significant opportunity to lead change, and build closer and more meaningful connections with consumers throughout 2019.
To leverage this merging of evolving consumer consciousness with the laws of human nature, useful questions to consider are:
Am I aware of the food related issues consumers really care about?
Do I feel well equipped to lead change and not simply follow trends?
Which areas make sense for me to target?
If I am to lead change what would that look like?
Do I know how consumer consciousness about food and health is evolving?
The timing is right for food businesses to lead change in 2019. The key question is...are you up for the challenge?