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Monitor: Natural retailers can lead the conversation around climate and food production

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The UN climate conference shows us how complex the problem is, but natural retailers have a platform and a voice that could be important in helping to solve it.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, Oct. 28, 2021
 
As the world emerges, haltingly from COVID-19, new challenges emerge. In this feature, New Hope Network provides an ongoing update on those challenges and the opportunities they hold. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

When the table was set for the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow last week, the menu came with notations summing up the carbon trail behind each dish. That transparency, predictably, came with a cost as activists and critics howled about the choices offered—the Scottish beef burger was a particularly high-carbon offense.

There are undoubtedly lessons on that menu, but natural retailers can’t let that lesson be keeping food out of the climate conversation. Food production is a root cause of global warming, but it can also be an opportunity to mitigate global warming through regenerative agriculture. Not talking about the carbon question short-circuits that opportunity.

Regardless of that, the conversation has already started, and consumers are listening, especially shoppers in the natural channel.

In a survey deployed this week, 72% of natural shoppers said they were extremely like or somewhat likely to shop at a grocery store that made it easy to know if the products they bought came from companies committed to reducing carbon emissions. A still-notable 43% of non-natural shoppers said the same.

 

Asked how important retail carbon commitments were, 11% of natural shoppers said “absolutely essential.” That's nearly twice the percentage of non-natural shoppers who gave the same answer.

 

That all of this is important to the planet is unquestionable, but that it is important to consumers in the natural channel provides an opportunity to not only further differentiate from conventional retail but also to educate and be part of changing habits that will lessen climate change. The conversation has already started, and natural retail needs to engage.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but natural retailers are not a small channel anymore, and cooperation across chains and organizations including the Independent Natural food Retailers Association could streamline and simplify ways to communicate carbon commitments to consumers in the aisles and on the shelf.

Natural retail is no stranger to leading on causes. From the health benefits upon which the natural products movement was founded to GMOs, fair trade and reusable shopping bags, the channel is known for getting out in front on vital issues. Getting out in front of the raging house fire that is climate change might not be possible at this point, but creating a cooperative and collaborative rubric for carbon transparency can be some part of an answer.

The fact that the menu at the COP26 dinner was well intentioned but not well received is no cause to avoid the task. Transparency may not be the whole answer, but it could be part of a conversation that might lead to one.

And natural retailers have a lot to contribute in that conversation.

 

 

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