Ethical positions on food are here to stay, probably for the foreseeable future. Increased knowledge about food production and interest in the story behind products has caused an ethical awakening for consumers. Millennial consumers, especially, vote with their wallets and purchase products that align with their values as much as possible.
They’re looking for reasons to believe in companies, and view the brands they support as extensions of self. Especially when it comes to food, today’s consumers want to feel good about what they’re purchasing. We’ve already seen this trend on the rise, with foods bearing ethical claims accounting for an increasing value of food sales worldwide. Moreover, 80% of consumers say they would switch brands based on corporate social responsibility when quality is equal.
Eggs are one interesting example. They have story-indicating ethical labels that directly correlate to price. Adding a cage free, antibiotic free, or free range label can increase the price consumers are willing to pay for eggs because of the backstory they connect to those labels. Some egg producers have gone a step further to demonstrate the happy living conditions their hens enjoy. Decorating henhouses, sharing hens’ names and diets, or setting up “hencams” that stream video from the henhouse are no longer out of the norm.
While the flavor of the eggs is unaffected by these factors, the consumer’s concern for ethical treatment of hens influences their perceptions of quality. The result? Many consumers believe the ethically produced eggs taste better. This interesting taste test illustrates the range of flavor differential that consumers perceive based on ethical implications. Overwhelmingly, consumers believe that cage-free, antibiotic-free, and free-range eggs taste better than conventionally produced “warehouse” eggs. But when all factors are equal those same consumers can’t tell the difference.
Eggs aren’t unique in this sense. Ethics are playing such a strong part in food marketing that flavor perceptions have been inextricably tied to ethical positions for many consumers. This isn’t to say that they are wrong – they perceive the improvement in flavor based on the weight that the positions hold in their sense of values. We already know that a number of factors, from surroundings to company, can impact perceptions of flavor and the ethical component is no different.
With ethical claims becoming more prevalent in all facets of the food and beverage industry, companies that choose to eschew these values could quickly find themselves left behind. Conversely, companies that take initiative to produce their food ethically must share their story and find unique ways to tell consumers they share their values.