How Using Carbon Labels for Your Food Product Could Become your Big USP

Climate change is real and most of the world now agrees that it is. As people are gaining more awareness about their impact on the planet, they increasingly seek to make better decisions about the things they can control – first and foremost their consumption behavior. 

To aid these decisions carbon labels have emerged as one way to help consumers make better decisions to buy products with a smaller impact. In this article we will guide you through the maze of what carbon labels are, why you should care about them and how they can provide you with a powerful competitive advantage over your competitors. 

What are Carbon Labels and Why Should you Care About Them

Carbon labels take the idea of showing what’s in your product beyond ingredients and nutritional information and include the environmental impact that its production has on the planet. 

With growing public awareness on reducing carbon emissions carbon labels have re-emerged in the last 2 years and slowly even big companies like Nestlé are drawing up programs to use them.

Since there is already a wide range of sustainability labels, why should you care about this one?  

In recent years people have been made more aware of the carbon footprint of their food through public education and popular documentaries like Cowspiracy. They are often unaware of the impact of their diets on the environment but are highly willing to change their shopping behaviors to decrease their impact.

A carbon label is a convenient way to simplify the process of making better choices which is why consumers support the idea of companies using them.

In short, carbon labels are an easy-to-understand concept for consumers that link higher sustainability efforts and shopping behavior. 

How to Calculate the Carbon Footprint of Your Product

The carbon footprint of your product includes every aspect from how and where it is grown all the way to how it is packaged. There are numerous steps in between to consider that require very detailed research, like 

  • Which ingredients are used 
  • Where and how the ingredients are grown 
  • How the ingredients are processed 
  • How the product is shipped 
  • How the product is packaged 

Often the aspect of where the product is from is overestimated in its impact on the carbon footprint and aspects like how it is shipped and what the ingredients are to begin with are underestimated. If the product is transported via ships the impact may be much smaller than an air freight from a closer distance. 

Consumers also often disregard that the type of food makes the biggest difference, with animal products usually being drastically higher impact than plant-based ones – even when produced with a more sustainable type of farming

While calculating the exact carbon footprint of your product already seems like a complicated endeavor another challenge might be that an exact number doesn’t mean a lot to customers if it’s not put in context.  

Ultimately you want to communicate that your product has a lower impact than the competitors’ ones which is why we should look at a label that makes this possible. 

The Carbon Trust Label

The Carbon Trust is one of the first institutions that has come up with a widely accepted label – the Product Carbon Footprint Label. 

The label currently has 4 classifications of a certificate: 

  • ‘CO2 measured’ – The CO2 of the product has been measured by international standards 
  • ‘Reducing CO2’ – The CO2 footprint of the product is reducing from one year to another, showing the company’s effort to make it more sustainable 
  • ‘Carbon neutral’ – The company has reached an offset of all of their CO2 emissions 
  • ‘Lower CO2’ – The CO2 footprint of this product is significantly lower than the market dominant one
carbon trust label showing their four classifications

The Carbon Trust Label is an easy-to-understand label for customers and gives companies plenty of opportunities to get a certification, even if they have only started their journey towards a lower impact product. 

How One Brand Used Carbon Labels to Stand Out

Quorn is a British company and one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of plant-based meat substitutes. 

They are also one of the first companies that decided to include the carbon footprint of their products on the label, starting June 2020. Partnering with Carbon Trust they calculated the carbon footprint of each product and brought it onto the label which looks like this: 

quorn packaging shows the carbon footprint of every product

While Quorn’s effort certainly provides them with a strong story to talk about and a unique selling point compared to competitors it’s not checking the box of placing the carbon footprint in context.

Let’s look at another brand that has focused on exactly that part. 

How One Brand Used the Carbon Footprint to Come Up with a ‘Better Product’

When you’re thinking about making and marketing a ‘better’ food product, chances are you’re already considering a plant-based version and are not alone in the space since lots of competitors have emerged over the last few years. 

Ripple was in that situation as well, wanting to come up with a better version of milk but emerging themselves in a sea of competitors with other plant-based milks. 

Their way of coming up with a better version of a product that would also provide a competitive advantage and a strong story was to lower the footprint of their product even beyond what other plant-based companies were doing.  

Ripple decided to come up with a plant-based milk made of peas for two reasons: 

  • It is higher in protein than other plant-based milks 
  • It has a far smaller environmental footprint than other plant-based milks 

If you visit their website, it’s the first thing they will educate on and it’s one of the main messages they use in all their branding: 

pop up on ripple website shows positive carbon footprint change compared to competitors

Even though Ripple is not using carbon labelling (yet), they have a strong and easy-to-understand branding USP using the value of lowering the footprint of their product. Lowering the carbon footprint was ultimately one of the main factors that enabled them to come up with a ‘better’ product.

Key Takeaways

Carbon labels for food products are on the rise and despite the challenges of measuring the carbon footprint in a reliable way they can provide a powerful message for your brand to stand out from the sea of competitors. 

In this article we have explored that: 

  • Carbon labels are an easy to understand concept for consumers and may guide their buying behavior 
  • Measuring the carbon footprint is difficult and current label options still provide confusion to customers, but the message is powerful and has potential for future improvement 
  • Using the idea of carbon labels and providing a lower footprint product may help you come up with product innovations (like Ripple Pea Milk) and provide a USP for your communication (like Quorn) 

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