Welcome to the World of Transparency

January 8, 2016

In this morning’s New York Times article: “Breaking from its industry rivals, Campbell Soup will become the first major food company to begin disclosing the presence of genetically engineered ingredients like corn, soy and sugar beets in its products.”

We would like to give Campbell’s Soup a pat on the back for taking a much needed step in the right direction. In the past decade we have seen a dramatic increase and sudden emphasis on the “conscious” consumer— seen in no better example than by the fast food mogul, McDonald’s, promising cage free eggs within the next ten years.

However, as wonderful as this is for consumers wanting to know the truth about the ingredients of their food, this also raises the question: “What took so long?” Even more so, “What about everyone else?”

It’s safe to say that big corporations and food manufacturers are starting to see a rise in conscious consumers—they care about where their products are being made, whether the brand is socially responsible, if what they are eating is natural, organic, and/or G.M.O free. But this move in the marketplace has been a long time coming. We saw it with Whole Foods clear as day. So the question becomes: If it took Campbell’s Soup this long to begin moving in that direction, how long will it take everyone else?

The double-edged sword here is this: We know that the switching behavior for consumers is not very high. Consumers are habitual and if you’ve been buying Campbell’s Soup for 20 years then chances are you’ll continue to buy Campbell’s Soup for another 20 as well. By Campbell’s Soup announcing their transparency, consumers will see them as “ahead of the trend” and “socially responsible.” But socially responsible for what?

Campbell’s Soup is, essentially, admitting that their food is genetically modified and far from natural. Will this impact sales negatively? Probably not. Most consumers don’t know what G.M.O means to begin with, let alone that being a good enough reason to make the switch from the product they’ve been consuming for years. However, will Campbell’s Soup be remembered as being and ahead of the trend and their competitors in terms of brand transparency? Only for a little while. So the irony becomes: consumers will approve of Campbell’s Soup being more transparent and “honest,” not realizing that the brand is being honest about being unhealthy.

As brands, what responsibility do you have to consumers? Is it about being honest while continuing to deliver products that might not be in the consumer’s best interest? Or is it about making truly great products and then being honest about it.