Sustainability Messaging: We Have Some Education to Do

Sustainability: it’s quite the word du jour in marketing circles and amongst shoppers. The problem is, no one seems to agree on what it actually means.

When many of you speak about your company’s sustainability story, you’re likely talking about resource conservation, land stewardship, the economic viability of your operations and your support for your employees or societal impacts. But here is what your shoppers are thinking…


You see, shoppers say they want to buy sustainable products. The problem is that they don’t understand what they mean when they say that, particularly as it pertains to agriculture. A lot of times when shoppers are talking about sustainability – they think it means recyclable or zero waste packaging – no plastic.



Many of them consider a sustainable company or product to be one that is focused on reducing its carbon footprint in an effort to fight climate change. And when it comes to fresh produce, some shoppers even think of buying locally grown/seasonal produce as a part of sustainability. Some even think buying organic is “sustainable.” Fresh produce marketers, clearly we have some education to do!

What the Research Says about Shoppers and Sustainability

A 2021 study about shoppers and sustainability from Deloitte is extremely illuminating when it comes to shoppers’ views on the topic. The study found that while it’s true that Gen Z shoppers are paving the way for more sustainable shopping behaviors and awareness, shoppers still feel that a lack of information is stopping them from choosing more brands that have sustainable and ethical practices.

But the main reason shoppers aren’t adopting more sustainable shopping practices is because they aren’t interested. Oof – I know it’s not what you want to hear if you are a marketer focused on using your sustainability story as a differentiator, but don’t throw in the towel. If sustainability is a key differentiator for you, then you should focus on appealing to the shoppers that DO care about it. And for these shoppers – they don’t have enough information from you to make informed decisions.

(Deloitte Study)

(Deloitte Study)

Crafting the Right Message When it Comes to Sustainability

If you want to focus on sustainability messaging as a cornerstone of your B2C marketing, look first to understand what your shoppers’ idea of sustainability is and then help them to understand actions they can take when making purchase decisions.


According to a Mckinsey study about sustainability in the fashion industry, shoppers want brands to take the lead when it comes to sustainability with 64% saying they want brands to reduce packaging, 50% saying they want information on how to recycle and 46% want clarity on the sourcing of their products. While fashion and produce are two different worlds, there are still parallels we can take away from this:

(Deloitte Study)

Educate shoppers about your packaging

If you’ve been able to take steps toward more eco-friendly packaging, focus your sustainability story around this when speaking with shoppers. And if you are still packing in plastic for the many very valid reasons that we understand as fresh produce experts – you’ve got some education to do. Help shoppers understand why your packaging may not be as unsustainable as they think – or help them understand the benefits of plastic and tell them about all the other ways your company focuses on being good stewards of the land.

Tell shoppers what they can do

Start with recycling. If your packaging is recyclable, consider creating infographics for social media or your website that clearly depict best practices for shoppers to understand. Breaking down this information might seem basic to some of us, but shoppers appreciate it and it performs well. If recycling isn’t it, tell shoppers about other ways they can reuse your products or make sustainable choices when it comes to buying produce. If you have a Fair Trade story, shout that from the roof tops! The bottom line is that you should give them information in a very basic way that will help them make more informed decisions in the produce department.

Keep sharing more with shoppers about where and how you grow your products

We can’t say this enough. Shoppers want to know where their food is coming from and in their eyes, seeing something as simple as a short-form video of your fields or a photo of a grower might be enough to make them feel that they are making sustainable choices. If you source products from outside of the US, consider messaging about the local communities this supports overseas when shoppers make that purchase.

(Deloitte Study)

The bottom line is that when it comes to sustainability messaging for shoppers, a lot of us are getting it wrong. We have some education to do to bring shoppers into our world and meet them where they are in their thinking about what sustainability is and how it affects agriculture and the supply chain. Keep your messaging very simple and very concise and with a few adjustments, you can make a difference if you can meet shoppers on their level.

If you need support developing the right messaging that sets your brand apart and helps shoppers make informed decisions, consider a messaging guide. With this tool, you will be able to tell a unique story that will capture the attention and engagements of your audiences and serve as a roadmap for your marketing efforts. Click here to get started.