Greenhushing Symptomatic of a Bigger Problem

May 1, 2023
If it creates doubt or consumer hesitancy, it indicates a misalignment of brand and product.

Greenhushing is a hesitancy among food product marketers to make sustainability claims — even when they can substantiate such claims. In some cases, greenhushing is simply a fear of being called out for greenwashing by food industry watchdogs. In other cases, it is rooted in a belief that positioning brands and products as green does not sell.

Clearly, greenhushing is a symptom of a much bigger problem in the food industry — brand and product misalignment.

Climate change is a driver of a lot of food industry change. Not only is it impacting global supply chains, but also consumer demand. Research we conducted in 2022 into changes in consumer demand found 47% of U.S. primary shoppers are aspirational to buy more sustainably but do not due to a lack of availability and trust, confusion about what is sustainable and concerns about product performance and affordability.

Just 42% of primary U.S. shoppers trust the U.S. food system. It’s simply easier to trust an individual positioned as a watchdog — calling out companies for greenwashing — even without providing substantial scientific information to substantiate their points of view.

In some cases, greenhushing is rooted in shopper awareness and confusion about what is sustainable. An example comes from the California Milk Advisory Board from research sponsored in 2021 by the Dairy Marketing Board that found most shoppers believe glass or carton is more recyclable than the plastic milk carton. In actuality, the opposite is true. HDPE plastic is highly sought after as a recycling material as it can be reused 7-10 times.

These are the reasons for acknowledging greenhushing as a symptom of a bigger problem — misalignments between the promise of a brand and the delivery of product experiences that shoppers seek and love. Low consumer trust and awareness with high levels of confusion add to the complexity of the greenhushing problem.

What is needed are additional ways for marketers to be more confident in making product sustainability claims. Marketers need the confidence to know that shoppers seek more environmentally friendly product alternatives. The fact that nearly half of shoppers desire more sustainable product alternatives should be reason enough for food marketers to ask that food product innovation “tilt” toward sustainability.

Noel Anderson, past president of IFT, recently discussed greenhushing on a panel discussion led by InsightsNow. He shared, “I would love to see all of us take a much more ‘Einsteinian’ approach to issues like this. Albert Einstein said, 'If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.' Net, we need to spend much more time defining the problem, or opportunities, then start to solve them — and ensure it's done in a way that takes others along with them.”

Product strategy is a solution to the greenhushing problem. It gives food marketers more confidence by understanding changes in consumer demand for more sustainable alternatives.

Before digging into what product strategy is, it's important to stress that it is NOT a plan or a roadmap. It is a set of rules to decide courses of action. It yields a set of respective parameters for faster pivoting in the face of complex, layered potential barriers to success.

Guardrails are key to making the right decisions — including whether or not a brand fits with a sustainable product strategy. Knowing which brands can take on more sustainable product lines avoids misalignments that create consumer confusion and broken trust.

Product strategy is a clear solution to greenhushing as it involves aligning the brand to the product. It sets clear guardrails for product teams to design products that lower barriers that keep shoppers from buying more sustainably. This means bringing to market more sustainable products at affordable price points while delivering the taste and convenience that consumers love and expect.

About the Author

Dave Lundahl | CEO

Dave Lundahl is CEO of InsightsNow, a company he founded in 2003 to empower product visionaries to design experiences for a healthier, happier world. Dave and his team know it’s hard to align product and brand strategy —but it is essential to design experiences people love. Their moments-based behavioral approach empowers product leaders to activate insights and create product and brand strategy alignment — ultimately contributing to a healthier, happier world.

Sponsored Recommendations

Troubleshoot: Grittiness in gluten free cookies

Learn how to adjust gluten free cookie recipes for a softer texture.

Clabber Girl: Rising Success

Uncover how Clabber Girl Corporation achieved a remarkable 7% growth and improved manufacturing efficiency by seamlessly integrating Vicinity's batch manufacturing solution with...

Intelligent Blends: Taking Technology to the Next Level

Find out how our friends at Intelligent Blends use VicinityFood and Microsoft Dynamics GP to produce the best coffee around.

Key ingredient: Mother Murphy's Laboratories

Flavorings manufacturer Mother Murphy’s Laboratories integrates front office with production facility — improving operations from initial order to final invoice.