Crawl-Walk-Run: Actionable Steps to Sustainable Sourcing for Private Brands

This is the second post in a four-part series on undertaking a sustainable-sourcing business approach to innovate private store brands. Click here to view section one about the myths, risks and opportunities of sustainable sourcing. Here we’ll explore the Crawl Phase.The upcoming sections will explore the Walk Phase and the Run Phase of the innovative Crawl-Walk-Run approach.

Janice Neitzel

In an economic climate with relatively stagnant growth for major national brands, private brand sales in all major retail channels continue on an upward trend. Sustainable sourcing, generally defined as using a resource so that it is not depleted or permanently damaged, creates an opportunity to differentiate your private brand from the competition, while providing additional value to your customer.

If you are just beginning the journey into sustainable sourcing, I recommend taking a Crawl-Walk-Run approach.

Where to begin: Crawl

Recycling: To begin, focus on quick wins like adding recycling instructions to your packaging as you update current labels or develop new packaging. According to National Geographic’s Greendex, the U.S. makes up 5 percent of the world’s population and creates half of the world’s garbage. Adding clear recycling instructions will make your private brand’s product remain relevant to current customers while appealing to new sustainably-savvy customers.

Another quick win is to get your organization involved in recycling. Partner with local waste management companies on recycling programs that reduce costs or even generate revenue.

Food waste: Partner with local food bank organizations like Feeding America in order to reduce food waste from overruns, short-coded product or damaged product.

In the U.S., 40 percent of all food ends up in landfills. Let’s talk about donating that food. While some private brand owners remain hesitant about sending their products to food banks because of liability or consumer concerns, U.S. legislation offers brand owners liability protection in the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act.

What about meat donations? A recent USDA change has made this easier. Food banks have the ability and are required to relabel any missing ingredients or unlabeled allergens. Food banks can receive large quantities of animal proteins and will follow the same regulated safe handling protocols to repack product into smaller quantities to be distributed to clients.

As with all sustainability initiatives, it is very important to let your customers know about your programs and give them stories and examples of how these programs are helping local communities. Many food banks can help with promotions and are eager to share information of your partnerships with the press or online social media. For you, there are tax benefits to donating, reduced trash costs and, of course, the goodwill factor that identifies your brand as helping feed the hungry across America.

Animal well-being: Another initiative to begin in the Crawl Phase is to request third-party animal welfare audit results from your animal protein suppliers and manufacturers. Most suppliers already undergo third-party processing plant inspections using the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) animal welfare audit designed by Dr. Temple Grandin. It may be more difficult to obtain on-farm animal welfare audits, but it is important to start the discussion by asking for them so your suppliers know your company wants to begin receiving the information on a regular basis.

Once you have established this audit request process, you will need to ensure audit compliance reviews and corrective action follow-up. It is crucial to let your suppliers know that if there are audit deficiencies, you expect them to identify these and take corrective action, even if the audit is passed.

Communicating expectations of suppliers is key to ensuring a smooth process. Sustainable Solutions Group has this program in place and guides large retailers and foodservice companies in making this audit review process thorough and efficient.

Supplier diversity: Begin to actively seek supplier diversity in RFPs/RFQs so that private brand manufacturer diversity can be part of your socially responsible sustainable sourcing platform. If you are not doing this already, begin by buying at least one product from minority-owned or women-owned manufacturers. It may be less than a truckload, but it does not require you to do any more than award the business, while providing an opportunity to innovate your private brand.

Customer communication: Last but not least, make sure you begin promoting these efforts through social media, point-of-sale materials in-store, and messaging on your website.

Portions of this were originally published in Henry Stewart Publications 2045-855X Journal of Brand Strategy VOL. 4, NO. 2, 000–000 Summer, 2015

Image credit: Flickr/Leszek Leszczynski

Janice Neitzel

As CEO of Sustainable Solutions Group, Ms. Janice Neitzel uses a data-driven approach in leading top food industry decision-makers in answering consumer demand for higher animal welfare meat, dairy, and eggs. Her clients range from international to North American to regional food companies, including food manufacturers, retailers, grocery, private brand, quick service, casual dining and fast casual restaurant chains. Ms. Neitzel has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a Certified Group Facilitator. With Dr. Temple Grandin as a primary advisor, Ms. Neitzel leads decision-makers to consensus on supply chain Animal Welfare and Antibiotics Policies, for a more sustainable food supply chain.

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