Seeking to spark consumer interest in environmental issues, five natural products companies are launching a major Earth Day promotion starting in mid-April. Although company representatives say they aren't expecting a profit bonanza, they believe the cooperative effort has the potential to raise consumers' awareness about how their purchasing power can provide positive environmental impacts.
Given the events of Sept. 11, industry observers believe that more people are taking a greater interest in environmental issues and that Earth Day 2002 (April 22) provides an opportunity for all naturals companies to show off eco-friendly products. By starting to plan now, all retailers can leverage the national media attention bestowed on Earth Day and appeal to consumers' environmental consciousness.
"This is perfect for the naturals retailers," says Marty Baird, a national consultant with Phoenix-based Nutritional Marketing. "If you look at where the country is now, people are looking for something good, they want to go back to the earth. Before Sept. 11, we took life for granted; now, people don't do that anymore. Natural products are the perfect match."
The five companies planning the major promotion are Whole Foods Markets, Recycline, Seventh Generation, Stonyfield Farms and Kiss My Face. Whole Foods will provide extra display space, advertising and in-store promotions of eco-friendly products in its 130 stores.
The idea started with Eric Hudson, president of Recycline. His Sommerville, Mass., company recycles No. 5 yogurt containers and uses the material to manufacture tooth brushes and tongue cleaners.
"Most people aren't aware that their shopping habits can help the planet," says Hudson. "We want to help consumers realize that through their product choices they can make a difference for the environment."
Whole Foods didn't hesitate to participate, says Kate Lowery, spokeswoman.
"This is a way to put Earth Day back on people's radar screens," says Lowery. "This is a great group that has come together to do this, they're very passionate."
The cooperative effort brings more power to the promotion by displaying a variety of consumer products in hundreds of stores across the country. All the manufacturers will provide information about the eco-friendly characteristics of the products. Here's an example from Seventh Generation, of Burlington, Vt., which makes a variety of household products: "If every home replaced just one roll of standard paper towels with one roll of Seventh Generation's recycled product, the nation would save 496,570 trees, 1.9 million cubic feet of landfill space, 207 million gallons of water, and prevent the release of 88,939 pounds of particulate."
During a consumer focus session last summer, Seventh Generation presented these statistics to participants and found the environmental message effective.
"After people read that statement they said, 'Why wouldn't I buy this product?' " says Karen Martensen Flemming, senior vice president of marketing. "People felt empowered to do something that makes a difference." In focus groups held after Sept. 11, consumers responded even more strongly to the environmental message, Flemming said.
To hold true to the Earth Day ideal, the companies will not print paper handouts for shoppers. Information will be displayed on posters and in-store displays. To get more detailed information, consumers will be asked to access the promotion's official Web site at www.stonyfield.com. At the site, consumers will be able to download coupons and read more about resource-saving practices and products.
The manufacturers are also working out details that will allow customers to bring in coupons for any standard comparable product and receive the same discount. Seventh Generation used a similar promotion a few years ago and was very successful.
In all, the promotion will be a low budget affair. Whole Foods will incorporate the event into its regular advertising; no other national advertising is planned.
Stephan Hengst, spokesman for Stonyfield Farms, says the company doesn't expect a sales spike. Rather, it's a way to show its long-term commitment to environmental issues.
"It's not a sales-driven program, but an educational program," Hengst says. "We want to show consumers that we want them to think about their choices every day, that they do make a difference by supporting companies that are environmentally conscious."
The executives at Kiss My Face joined the program for the same reason, but their displays will show company products—toiletries, skin creams and other personal care items—to a new audience. "Our products will be displayed outside of the [HABA section], so we're excited to see the response," says Donna Meyer, national sales manager.
Bob McLeod, president of Kiss My Face, based in Gardner, N.Y., believes every company involved in natural products should make a new commitment to environmental awareness.
"This is a point of differentiation for us," he says. "Earth Day doesn't get a lot of hype these days. Our industry should take the lead."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 3/p. 66, 68
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 3/p. 66
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 3/p. 68