CHICAGO — The concept of what is “good” in food and beverage marketing is in flux, according to research from Bader Rutter Intel Distillery, Chicago, which hosted a live panel discussion on Aug. 25 on the topic. Overall, Bader Rutter data indicate traditional definitions like taste and nutrition are not going away but newer ones are growing in importance.

“For decades, the source of food and how it’s made hasn’t really been an important message to consumers,” said Dennis Ryan, executive creative director at Bader Rutter. “But today, between the proliferation of brands and information access — digital and social platforms — consumers can really choose brands based on whether they align with their values, whether they agree with how they’re grown and produced and where they come from, and what cost it takes to produce them. So, defining your good and ensuring your definition of good aligns with your core audience on the right platform is now critical to modern marketing success.”  

Good is a simple concept with complex meanings and many interpretations, as there are all sorts of good attributes. By tracking conversations since 2014 among the industry’s 1,500 most influential voices, Intel Distillery analysis uncovered how definitions vary, everything from taste, nutrition and ingredients to social agendas.

“In an increasingly commoditized market, good taste alone isn’t always enough,” Mr. Ryan said. “Conversations around communities and the planet increased the most in volume, while discussions around ingredient sourcing declined.”

Jarrod Sutton, chief strategy officer, National Pork Board, Des Moines, Iowa, said, “In my 25-year food marketing career, I have seen the definition of good food evolve from safety and quality to what is now more all-encompassing: good for me and good for the planet.”

As a result of this evolving interpretation, food and beverage marketing teams actively work to make products and brands good in order to sell them. It’s a multidimensional approach.

Good discussion panel participants

“At Quaker, we strive to meet our consumers’ changing needs everyday by delivering on nutrition as well as taste,” said Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer, Quaker Oats Co., Chicago, a business of PepsiCo, Purchase, NY. “(It also includes) how we have over time and will continue to support agricultural practices to secure the future supply of oats, not just for ourselves, but for the North American marketplace and the global countries where we are active today.”

For the National Pork Board, it was about a decade or so ago that pork marketing became less about communicating good cooking temperatures for safety and good category management at retail. Good got closer to farm production practices.

Customers wanted to know about antibiotic use, Mr. Sutton said. They wanted to know that pork farmers were being responsible, efficacious and judicious about antibiotics. They wanted to know about stewardship.

“We were doing regenerative agriculture before it was cool,” Mr. Sutton said, and explained that the US pork industry is not far from carbon neutrality. “Our intent is to be net negative. It’s my job to translate this sound science into sound bites to resonate with consumers (in order for them to see the good).”

Joe Prewett, executive vice president for brand, Tillamook County Creamery Association, Tillamook, Ore., explained how the dairy cooperative activates good. Internally the company strives not just to be good, but to be the best. This gets expressed externally with its customer promise: Tastes better because it is made right.

“We were doing regenerative agriculture before it was cool.” — Jarrod Sutton, National Pork Board

“We go on to explain the many aspects of ‘right,’” Mr. Prewett said. “Our purpose is to nourish lives in a growing world, and (one right way to do that is) to support all farmers who share that mission. This is part of our good messaging.”

This includes Tillamook investing in the future of farming through the American Farmland Trust (AFT), an organization that works to protect farmland, promote environmentally sound farming practices and keep farmers on the land. The effort started a year ago when in September 2020, 10% of all Tillamook retail sales were donated to AFT.

“The more we can highlight the daily lives of farmers and the application of the scientific rigor, to say this is best today, however, we’re not satisfied and we’ll be better tomorrow and continue to improve, should be part of good messaging,” Mr. Sutton said.

Ms. Kroepfl encouraged marketing teams to work closely with procurement to better understand the farmer connection.

“Such conversation may unlock value that is hidden in the supply chain,” she said. “It might spark an idea.”

In the end, when deciding where to focus energies for communicating good, Ms. Kroepfl said it’s an intersection of three things. First is the “authentic brand DNA.”

“You need to inventory and understand at a very deep level your brand equities,” she said. “Then know the needs and wants of your lead consumer. Drill into that insight. Then move from consumer insights to foresight. Identify the values we share. It’s both an art and a science and relies on data and intuition.”