Low Carbon Label: Is there room and does anyone care?

27/12/2012 § Leave a Comment

Consumers are overloaded with a plethora of different labels. In the UK alone there are over 80 different labels and food assurance scheme including Organic, Red Tractor or RSPCA Freedom Foods. Companies want to help consumers make the right decision and differentiate their products but a recent survey by Which? [a consumer research magazine] found that only 20% of consumers understand the majority of labels. But does that mean for a carbon label?

 

Give me a kilo of whatever takes the least ethical reasoning

Give me a kilo of whatever takes the least ethical reasoning

Despite all of this consumers do care if a brand is ‘Green’ or not. Ignoring for now what Green actually means across these countries from this research it is clear that Green is important to about 80% of consumers to a greater or lesser extent.

“When You Think About What Brands to Buy, How Important is it that a Company is Green?” (% of respondents)

“When You Think About What Brands to Buy, How Important is it that a Company is Green?” (% of respondents)

 

But Quality & Taste and I suspect price is still the most important factor effecting a consumers decision to buy. So we can’t sacrifice either of these to reduce emissions.

key characteristics

We hear a lot about what people like their brands to do, you know I’d like it to be green or ethical but does that translate into real hard changes in buyer behaviour. The simple answer is yes it does. The top two categories ‘Free Range’ and ‘Fair Trade’ are about reducing the suffering of animals (Free Range Eggs sales have increased dramatically in the UK over the last decade) or sharing the rewards with others (FairTrade). Organic is perceived to be better for the environment or the individual. Looking at this, the question is is their space for a Low Carbon label?– and I’d say yes it is but over time I’d expect it to become part of an overarching scheme such as organic.

“UK Consumers Who Have Increased Spending on Green Food Products, by Eco-Label” (% of respondents)

“UK Consumers Who Have Increased Spending on Green Food Products, by Eco-Label” (% of respondents)

Labels are either digital or they convey the values of the product being sold. To a consumer a digital label is easy to understand since it tells you whether a product is vegetarian, kosha or halal and either you have to have it or you don’t.

Ethical or green labels have a more complex message to communicate and whether it effects your purchasing decision is up to you. FairTrade is the most successful ethical label in the UK – it pays a fair price to growers in the developing world and not to exploit them. The Soil Association’s Organic Standard is the best known organic brand.

The UK’s Carbon Trust are introducing their own carbon label, it is well intended – providing a common measurement framework (PAS 2050) but it faces some challenges for example the process of completing a footprint is expensive and beyond the reach of most growers and secondly consumers don’t know if 100g of CO2e is high or low.

Common Ethical Food Labels

Common Ethical Food Labels

So we know two things, one consumer demand exists but a label (and the marketing behind it has to clearly communicate what it stands for) and two it has to be rooted in something meaningful to the consumer and not just a set of numbers.

We have yet to see compelling evidence that a consumer will pay extra for a purely carbon label. Free Range yes, Organic yes, Rainforest Alliance yes but I don’t think low carbon. So how does carbon reduction make sense for a grower – it only make sense if leads to lower production costs because you are increasing yield or are able to take advantage of renewable energy.

 

 

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