Doing Business By Doing Good

Sarah Theodore  

During the past month, I had conversations on two separate occasions regarding corporate social responsibility and whether or not consumers care if a company is socially conscious. The first was with someone outside of the industry who wondered whether I believed beverage companies are a socially conscious group, and to that end, a number of examples indicate they are. Beverage companies, particularly following the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, Calif., last month, are eager to share their efforts to reduce their environmental impact and give profits back to charitable causes.
In this month’s “Up Close With…” profile on Hint Inc. (see page 31), Hint’s Chief Operating Officer Theo Goldin explains his company’s strategy for supporting charitable causes by saying, “We feel strongly that if you’re going to spend money around marketing, that money ought to do something good for people.”
“Social responsibility is huge,” said Joan Holleran, editor of Stagnito’s New Products Magazine and former editor of this publication, during another conversation on the topic. Holleran recently worked with Schneider & Associates, Boston, and Information Resources Inc., Chicago, to develop a comprehensive study of the most memorable new products of 2006 and the factors that led consumers to notice and purchase new products. The group shared their findings at the IRI Summit, held at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas.
Joan is not someone easily won over by do-gooder claims, so her assertion surprised me. According to the group’s research, consumers last year were bombarded with about 5,000 marketing messages a day, compared with the approximately 500 messages they heard each day in 1970. And they heard those messages across a spectrum of 32,624 consumer packaged goods introduced in 2006.
“Social responsibility,” Holleran says, “has emerged as a way for consumers to cut through the clutter of too many choices.” If a consumer cares about breast cancer research, for example, she can find products out there that support her cause. If an organic consumer wants his purchase to have even deeper meaning, he can look for Fair Trade-certified products that guarantee a fair wage to farmers in Third World countries.
Interestingly, I’ve also been hearing a lot about today’s teen and twentysomething populations who have been described in such seemingly contradictory terms as “entitled,” “altruistic” and “idealistic.” There might be something to the idea that social responsibility has a sort of badge effect, allowing consumers, especially the younger, influential set, to tell the world what they care about through what they drink. It will be interesting to see if there is a limit to the premium consumers are willing to pay for socially responsible products. In addition, like any marketing tie-in, social responsibility marketing runs the risk of being overdone. If every company throws a logo or colored ribbon on a bottle, the cause will quickly lose its effect.
Sneak Peek
Cover story — Honest Tea
Category Focus — Wine and spirits
Beverage R&D — IFT preview
Packaging — Packaging trends survey
Distribution — “Summerizing” trucks

Special Report — Top 100 Beverage Companies
Category Focus — Sports drinks
Global Report — Mexico and Central America
Packaging — Secondary packaging
Beverage R&D — Formulator’s Roundtable