Finding Balance in Sustainability Messaging for Ethical Food Brands


Corwin Hiebert


February 20, 2024
3 min read

In the ever-evolving landscape of sustainable products, mission-driven food companies have a unique challenge: how to effectively connect their values with their customers. While sustainability can lead to significant growth (as much as double, according to the 2022 Sustainable Market Share Index), not every ethical brand is benefiting from this trend.

Let’s explore the delicate balance between sustainability and consumer preferences, and how to navigate this terrain successfully.

The Price Dilemma

Selling sustainable products often comes with a price tag that can deter budget-conscious consumers, especially during times of economic uncertainty (ahem, like right now).

While adjusting pricing strategies can make costs more palatable, it's essential to remember that sustainability alone may not be enough to sway customers. Immediate needs like taste, quality, health benefits, and convenience are the primary drivers of purchase decisions.

Shifting Focus to Shared Human Values

David Allison, founder of the Valuegraphics Project, emphasizes the importance of shared human values in marketing efforts for a better world. While environmentalism may be a priority for only a quarter of consumers, other values like family, health, community, and experiences often take precedence.

When brands forego blanket sustainability claims (i.e. We’re Organic!) and start communicating more niche factors like recyclable packaging, ethical ingredient sourcing, nature conservation, efficient production, clean transportation, etc etc etc, the target market gains trust. And if you think it’s too technical or too sophisticated for them – it’s not.

To effectively connect with consumers, brands should prioritize these shared values and align with a broader range of concerns that matter to both the brand and its customers.

Building Trust Beyond Sustainability

Trustworthiness ranks high among consumers' values, and it can encompass more than just sustainability efforts. Brands can cultivate trust by being accountable to third-party auditors like B Corp certification and partnering with suppliers and vendors who share similar values regarding societal and environmental impacts. Transparency and accountability can be more compelling to consumers than an exclusive focus on sustainability, and Ethical Food Group can help you get there. We can assist with B Corp certification, brand positioning, sustainable packaging solutions and much more.

Final Thoughts

Food entrepreneurs with strong ethical principles have the potential to reshape the conversation around sustainability. By prioritizing category drivers such as previously mentioned immediate needs, trust, and shared human values, brands can create deeper connections with consumers without solely depending on the angle of sustainability.

In doing so, they can work towards a more sustainable future while still addressing the concerns that matter most to their target audience. Balancing sustainability with consumer preferences is the key to unlocking growth for mission-driven food companies, and it's a challenge worth embracing.

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Corwin Hiebert
VP, Strategic Partnerships, EFG
Corwin is at the helm of the day-to-day activities of EFG, and brings his year's of experience in the food business to every EFG member, partner and client.

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