Sustainability is the future of the global economy, especially the fresh produce industry, according to the Head of Sustainability at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.
Florence Van Dyke told the recent World Avocado Congress in Auckland that younger consumers are changing their spending habits, and sustainability has become a "top value-adder," which shows that people care about the world they live in.
"We are currently using resources at 1.7 times the rate that they can be regenerated," she said. "This means that we're using more water, using more carbon, and polluting through waste, more than the world can possibly regenerate in the course of the year. This information is not new, what has been missing has been action - but that has been beginning to change.
"One of the reasons for the change is that the impact of the climate crisis is bigger than we previously anticipated. The last ICC report found that almost half of the world's population lives in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change, and because of that, deaths due to severe weather events have increased significantly. So, environmental crises are no longer just things that will impact future generations, they will impact people here today. The bad news is that it has been the way that we have been doing business over the last 100 years that is largely responsible. This also means that businesses can be part of the solution - and consumers, employees, investors, and governments are starting to take action."
Ms. Van Dyke was also a triathlete when her sister Chloe founded CHIA, a healthy energy drink brand that produces bottled juices. Florence later joined the company and became CEO as it was re-branded CHIA Sisters and expanded into new markets, domestically and internationally. She gave an example of how installing solar panels at their business was able to leverage the environmentally-friendly business decision by creating a product of limited edition juices called "Bottled by the Sun." In 12 months, it made a profit 10 times what the solar panels cost to install, showing that it is profitable to be ethical due to the consumers aligning their spending according to their values.
She also added that people are also speaking through their 'labor' as many people have rejected a job because it does not align with their principles, so it is up to businesses to lead or be led. Ms. Van Dyke said that consumers are not looking for perfection, but honesty and transparency - and that data sharing and collaboration (such as an entire industry that is prepared to get together at an event like World Avocado Congress) has a major opportunity to create an impact in sustainability space.
"There are four steps or tools in implementing sustainability strategy into businesses and across the industry; measuring, using data to demonstrate action, collaborating to change the system, and thinking long term," Ms. Van Dyke said. "A values-led approach will bring these tools to life. Our understanding of sustainability has changed so much in the last ten years, even the last 12 months, and it will continue to change. But a values-led approach to doing business will outlast any of the short-term environmental changes. It is always going to be a work-in-progress, but a global values-led avocado industry that uses values to drive sustainability strategy from the orchard to the consumer will be truly transformational."
The Hass Avocado Board (HAB) explains that the industry should be encouraged to use the health science and nutrition of the fruit to help increase demand and consumption across the world.
Gina Widjaja is the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, and the major part of her job is taking the avocado research performed by HAB and placing it in front of consumers, particularly through health professionals.
"We have a laser-focused, integrated marketing and communication strategy using advertising, public relations, and digital marketing," Ms. Widjaja said. "We really stick to that consistent messages to our target audiences. Health professionals are our primary target audience, and they play a huge role in growing demand. They make food recommendations, and they guide their patients and clients to make changes in diet and exercise for preventative care as well as treatment options. They feel like they know a lot about diet and nutrition, but they constantly want to learn, and they have constant education requirements. In order to make accurate recommendations, health professionals rely on science; they want evidence-based research. We only focus on those who have a 'food as medicine' approach, and we also target consumers, but our target audience is very food and wellness engaged and motivated by nutrition."
Avocados have not always had a positive health message. Ms. Widjaja notes that the supply of avocados has steadily grown across the country, but consumer opinion has see-sawed; from once being a healthy fruit to being unhealthy due to the fats and calories, which were blamed by some for pushing up cholesterol levels, obesity, and heart disease. HAB exists to help address those attitudes and make avocados one of America's favorite fruits, but as the science improved around the healthy fat content, it did not immediately flow through to consumers, who were still worried about avocados and that all fat was bad - so the board invested heavily in long-term nutrition research and began marketing the information. That led to the formation of the "Fresh Avocados - Love One Today" campaign.
"It enabled the industry to get behind a common effort," Ms. Widjaja said. "We knew consumers would be motivated by nutrition messages. It is a call to action that gives permission to eat more avocados. Today, we can talk about the health benefits of avocados, such as heart health as well as being a good source of fiber. So, although the messages have evolved, the call to action 'Love one Today' will remain the same. Through our marketing efforts, more medical professionals are recommending avocados and are doing it more frequently for many outcomes.
"Our latest consumer tracking survey is reporting that healthy and good fats are the primary driver for purchase, followed by flavor and texture. But we know that while this is showing us the results we want to see, health statistics are still very alarming - chronic diseases are responsible for 45 percent of deaths in the US, with heart disease being the major cause. Many of the diseases are caused by poor nutrition, among other risk factors. That's why it's important to form a body of nutrition research to inform public health. As an industry with such a healthy product that consumers love, we are the envy of other fruit and commodity industries in educating consumers."