Branding Your Food Company As “Socially Responsible”

This week’s big news is Disney’s announcement that all products advertised on its children-focused television channels, radio stations and web sites must comply with nutritional guidelines designed to promote fruit and vegetable consumption, limit calories and reduce saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. On a related note, Disney ranked #3 in a global study of the world’s most reputable companies by the Reputation Institute, as measured by the emotional indicators of trust, esteem, admiration and good feeling. In a Forbes’ article on the study, Kasper Ulf Nielsen, Reputation Institute’s executive partner, states: “People’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for, and invest in a company is driven 60% by their perceptions of the company and only 40% by their perceptions of their products.” Accordingly, Disney’s announcement on the advertising of food products was not simply the result of pressure from First Lady Michelle Obama, but also made solid business sense.

The relationship between reputation management, brand power and sales has rarely been lost on major food companies who — like Disney — are increasingly focused on corporate responsibility with regard to a variety of social issues. Clearly, the ideal is to position your company as part of the solution rather than the problem.

A recent example is the Campbell Soup Company which is highlighting the Facts Up Front labeling system as part of its social responsibility program. But Campbell’s program goes beyond labeling changes and extends to an array of socially-relevant issues. According to Dave Stangis, Campbell’s Vice-President-Public Affairs and Corporate Responsibility:

As a food and beverage company, we strive to transparently address a unique range of topics, including sustainable agriculture, responsible sourcing, promotion of human health and sound nutrition, and responsiveness to consumers’ expectations of the foods they choose for themselves and their families.

Of course, addressing these topics has its limits when weighed against a company’s ultimate responsibility to its shareholders. A keen example is Frito-Lay’s decision in 2010 to cease using biodegradable packaging for its Sun Chips following consumer complaints that the bags were too noisy. That said, given the increased scrutiny of food companies, including consumer-driven campaigns empowered by social media, I fully expect many more companies to follow in the footsteps of Disney and Campbell’s and highlight their efforts to be “socially responsible.”

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