‘Sustainability, as a topic, is in acceleration mode at the moment’

To many, sustainability may seem like a buzzword used solely to help market Irish products on the world stage; but it has a critical role to play when it comes to expanding on and creating market opportunities.

Speaking at the recent Kildalton Open Source Sustainable Dairy Farm Open Day, Nicola O’Connell, head of marketing at Glanbia Ingredients Ireland, said: “We have many customers and many of them are interested in the whole area of sustainability.

“Sustainability is not new for these customers. It’s something that big international food companies have been looking at for quite a long time. What we are seeing is a distinct acceleration that’s happening with these businesses in the whole area of sustainability.

“They’re starting to put a lot more behind it and it’s becoming a lot more important to their businesses and that’s impacting us in terms of engaging with these customers much more frequently than we would have before.”

Although it’s quite hard to measure, O’Connell said sustainability is delivering something to the bottom line of these companies.

“If you look at the investment community and the new generation of investors that are coming along, they’re not just interested to see: ‘Am I going to turn a profit with this company if I invest in it?’

“They’re also looking to see are these people doing the right things by the planet, communities and the consumers that they’re delivering into.

“They’re actually making decisions not just in terms of cash, but also does it fit with their belief system. I think when you start to see that happening in the investment community, you start to see an awful lot of people sit up and pay attention.

“Sustainability, as a topic, is in acceleration mode at the moment. And you’ve got companies, like Unilever, who take sustainability the way through the chain,” she noted.

Sustainability is not a nice to have, it’s really a must have with the scale of international customer that we are engaging with at moment.

“From a consumer point of view, and we spend quite a bit of time talking to our customers’ customers as well, which is important because if we are going to have a meaningful conversation with our customers about sustainability, we need to stay really close to what the consumer is looking for and what’s meaningful for them.

“If you look at the whole area of ‘natural’ of which sustainability is a big part, we’re seeing a lot of momentum happening in different parts of the world.

“If you look at the US, there’s a 70% growth in demand for natural food and beverages and that’s against a conventional market which is flatlining at the moment.

“This is where you’ve got a lot of momentum and there’s reasons for it. Consumers are becoming more and more interested in the supply chains behind the products that they buy.”

Questions consumers ask when it comes to making purchasing decisions:
  • Where is this product coming from?
  • What did they put in it?
  • Is it nutritious?
  • Is it good for me?
  • Who’s making it?
  • What kind of a farming system is it coming from?
  • Is it grass or grain-based?
  • How are the animals treated within that system?
  • What is the environmental impact of the food that is coming form that system?

The Glanbia representative added: “There’s a lot of conscious consumers out there who really want to know about this stuff. They’ll take the time to go online and find out about it.

“There’s a lot more gadgets out there around tractability, which take consumers right back to the farm where the food came from.”