‘Good in every sense’: Why purpose is the key to better food brands


Today’s food brands are faced with a momentous choice. Their products, and the methods used to create them, have an immense capacity to either nourish or deplete our planet. In the face of climate change, population growth, hunger and obesity, the question is: will food brands carry on with business as usual? Or will they seize the opportunity to help turn the tide on food security, and in doing so become a serious force for good?

There are signs that the second scenario is coming to pass – not least that UK supermarkets are now ramping up their action on food waste.

Earlier this year, the ‘big four’ (Tesco, Adsa, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons) joined food giants Nestle and Coca-Cola in signing the Coultauld 2025 – a ten-year commitment to cut down food and drink waste by a fifth. Asda, Morrisons and Tesco have already broken with the conventional supermarket wisdom that only ‘perfect-looking’ produce is saleable. They’ve embraced ‘wonky’ fruit and veg as a commercial opportunity, each launching their own ugly produce ranges, which have already diverted a good deal of perfectly edible food from landfill.

Sainsbury’s, however, has taken its efforts to another level, with an initiative to cut food waste by actually encouraging consumers to buy less.

Radical action on food waste

In a bid to curb food waste, Sainsbury’s has given 20 families in the town of Swadlincote a Bosch ‘smart fridge’. Each fridge is equipped with two interior cameras that take photos of its contents every time someone closes the fridge door.

Used in tandem with a smartphone app that allows shoppers to check their fridge’s ‘selfies’ while they’re out and about, these smart fridges can help people avoid buying items they’ve already got, and thus cut down on the amount of food they throw away.

Sainsbury’s are using Swadlincote as a test bed for a whole range of food experiments, with the goal of reducing the town’s food waste by 50% over the next 12 months. According to the retailer, a quarter of UK households waste £235 worth of food every year by ‘doubling up’ on products they’ve got already.

The initiative is a striking example of a major retailer prioritising a values-driven goal – the reduction of food waste – over short-term profit. Sainsbury’s are pouring time, energy and resources into a programme that actually encourages their customers to buy less from them. This radical approach is an exciting development for sustainability in British business, and may be a symptom of bigger and better changes to come. 

Purpose is the real opportunity

While innovative CSR actions like this are undoubtedly very encouraging, there’s only one way for twenty-first century food brands to maximise the difference they make. The real opportunity here is purpose.

Visionary purpose beyond profit is the only way to achieve maximum value for society at the same time as gaining commercial advantage. And that’s because purposeful companies are not just doing good as an ‘extra’, but putting positive change at the very nucleus of their products and services. The energy and confidence this creates can drive leaders and employees to create brands with astonishing impact.

We can see it in those food businesses that have already cottoned on. The power of purpose is perfectly illustrated by the story of two food brands who embraced mission with meaning right from the get-go – Natural Balance Foods and Ella’s Kitchen.

The rise of Nakd bars

Natural Balance Foods is the business behind the immensely popular Nakd range of healthy bars and snacks, as well as Trek bars for outdoor sports enthusiasts. Their visionary purpose is to ‘increase world happiness through yummy healthy snacks, humour and helpfulness’.

The company have lived out their purpose in an unwavering commitment to wholefood alternatives to processed snacks, and a razor-like focus on what makes consumers happy. That is, ‘yumminess’, accessible taste and fun branding, as opposed to the dour ‘mung bean and rice cracker’ image of healthy, vegan, gluten-free food. Their purpose has fuelled a clarity and business confidence that has enabled them to become the UK’s fastest growing natural food company, compete David-and-Goliath style with massive multinational food brands and win international F&D awards.

“Major producers were amazed that a small company like ours could take them on and win,” says co-founder Jamie Combs.

Natural Balance’s products are made with minimal processing and zero artificial additives – an innovative approach that makes for a highly efficient manufacturing process, and is therefore just as commercial as it is ethical. It takes much less time and fewer resources to make a Nakd bar than your typical cereal bar  – just 35 minutes, compared to almost 4 hours for other baked bars.

Nakd is now a £31m brand, outperforming its rivals in the cereal bars and healthy snacks category with 56% year-on-year growth in 2015 versus just 1% for the rest of the category combined.

Ella’s Kitchen’s incredible growth

In a similar fashion, Ella’s Kitchen have captured a 20% share of the UK baby food sector in just seven years by putting purpose at the heart of their business strategy. Their mission of nurturing ‘healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime’ has led to the development of 100% organic baby food products that are ‘good in every sense’: high-quality, tasty and ethical. Committed to prioritising brand values over short-term returns, Ella’s Kitchen have taken time to develop their products with cleverness and care – always from the starting point of meeting customer needs. This forward-thinking approach has resulted in a stellar product range, a global turnover of £100 million and numerous consumer choice awards.

The future of food

As these two examples illustrate, having a clear sense of purpose beyond profit is the way forward for food brands wishing to multiply their positive impact. Putting purpose at the heart of your business creates deep confidence, drives product innovation, and builds customer rapport by connecting your brand to wider movements – like organic wholefoods, health consciousness and sustainability. Best of all, when your purpose is rooted in social good, there’s a direct relationship between commercial success and the amount of benefit you bring to people and planet.

In the light of Natural Balance Foods’ and Ella’s Kitchen’s success, we hope it won’t be long before the sustainability efforts of leading retailers like Sainsbury’ s feed through to a more purposeful approach to food.

About Graham Massey

Graham Massey is Business Head of The House, a purpose-driven business, culture and brand consultancy. To find out more, please visit www.thehouse.co.uk