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April 24, 2023

Angus Reid shared results from a recent poll that nearly 7 in 10 Canadians do not believe sustainability claims made on products and services.* Greenwashing is such a major concern that Canada’s Competition Bureau has warned consumers about terms such as ‘eco-friendly,’ ‘all-natural,’ or ‘green.’


Given this insight, how does a producer gauge if putting a claim on packaging will be believed by customers and the end consumer? One word that does differentiate claims is certified. For responsible producers and processors, using the word certified indicates that a third party ensures that the supplier meets or exceeds some criteria. When food and beverage businesses make claims that are not substantiated or certified, it erodes consumer confidence in our entire industry.


Claims can differentiate your products and have a positive impact on your selling price. Every time you consider a claim for your products, you must decide if your customers and consumers understand the claim and put value in the claim itself.


There are many options


Some claims are a must-have and some are a nice-to-have. Claims look impressive on packaging, but they must also be realistic for your business and deliver a return on the investment of meeting certification requirements. You should give serious consideration to the effort and investment required. Ask the following questions:


  1. Will it differentiate the product in its class?
  2. Is it something you want or something customers and/or consumers require or want?
  3. Will you be able to recoup the investment in your selling price?
  4. Is this realistic, given your current capabilities?
  5. Will you lose sales if you do not have the claim?
  6. Is it critical to the positioning of your business or your brand?


Retailers do have certain standards they expect suppliers to meet or exceed. For example, Whole Foods Market requires suppliers to meet one of the following third-party audited certifications if they are going to claim non GMO:


  • Non-GMO Project
  • NSF Non-GMO
  • USDA Organic (or equivalent international program)


Many large retailers require confirmation of Canada GAP certification for fresh produce to go through their distribution network. This gives them peace of mind that your products are up to standard. You should always research and understand the minimum requirements of your existing and potential customers. Do not assume they are all the same. Trends change, so you also have to stay up-to-date on their expectations.


Three different types of claims


We can put claims into three categories:


  1. Product characteristics which would be claims that are directly associated with the product. Examples of these claims would be gluten-free, lactose- free, trans-fat free, certified, non-GMO.


  1. Production characteristics which would be claims that are more aligned with how the product is produced or the labour that produces it. They can impact the product itself too. Examples of these claims would be certified organic, upcycled, fair trade, kosher, Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), certified, grass-fed, free-range or animal welfare.


  1. Sustainability characteristics such as compostable packaging, packaging made from recycled material or Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) free. These are known as “forever chemicals” because they can last thousands of years in nature.


Each of these claims can have an impact on your product positioning and sales. Some target markets will respond more or less to specific claims. Overall, younger consumers will be more interested in sustainability claims whereas older consumers will gravitate to more product characteristics.


Do your due diligence


Once you determine a claim is going to benefit your business, you will need to understand the criteria you must meet or exceed to actually make the claim. There can be lead time and third-party audits to consider. When certain claims are popular, the resources of auditors can be stretched which impacts timing.


Claims related to product characteristics have been around the longest. As consumers became more aware and interested in how and where food was being produced, the claims related to production characteristics gained traction. These do continue to evolve with trends such as EFI and upcycled being recent additions. Fair trade has been a term used for some time and more often related to production in other countries. The EFI certification ensures consumers that the product was produced in an environment focused on employee wellbeing and sustainability.


The newest category of claims is related to the environment and sustainability. We know consumers and regulators are more interested than ever to understand the impact food products have on the environment. This can include everything from production processes to packaging. Given the results from the Angus Reid poll, it is apparent industry needs to focus on credible claims and build consumer confidence.


For every claim you make on your products, do the work to ensure you meet or exceed the requirements. You also need to be very familiar with labelling and advertising regulations to communicate claims legally. This can be a complicated endeavour and if you are forced to re-print packaging it is expensive. Get the guidance from experts to ensure claims are represented properly.


Credibility of our industry is important


We need customers and consumers to have confidence in their food and the companies who produce it. Only make claims you can substantiate and deliver. Every time consumers determine a claim is not accurate, baseless -- or worst case, false --  it erodes the trust in our entire industry.


Unfortunately, there is not a simple or precise mechanism to challenge false claims. There are regulators but it is really dependent on industry to self-monitor these situations.


Claims can be a great addition to your product, your packaging and your overall brand. Talk with your customers and consumers. If you get the sense they don’t care, then it might not be the right claim in your category.



*The Angus Reid poll sampled the opinions of 1,506 Canadians in an online survey that ran from Feb. 22 and 24, 2023. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent.


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Submitted by Peter Chapman on 24 April 2023