Whilst consumers may apparently be flocking to Aldi and Lidl in their droves, and organic sales have taken a 19% battering compared to the start of 2008, some of the biggest global companies are highlighting their ethical sourcing as a unique selling point amidst the sea of economic meltdown and a reining in of consumer spending.

Communicating the core qualities of a product to the customer in a powerful way has become ever more important. The Soil Association, for example, recognises that the market for organic produce has stalled and feels that it may be due to a lack of understanding of what organic means and its positive wider implications – improved environmental conditions and improved economic, environmental and social sustainability for farmers in the developing world.

Emphasising the unique characteristics of certified produce, for example its environmental and ethical sustainability and the positive impacts these sourcing strategies have, is just one example of promoting the true ‘value’ of a product and the qualities it possesses that goes beyond value for money. It reminds the customer that yes,  economic doom and gloom may be pervasive and conspicuous consumption is less appropriate, but that what you buy can bring enjoyment and a wider sense of contributing to environmental and social change.


According to the Financial Times, Starbucks recently launched a major advertising campaign in US newspapers, in the first stop of a multi-million dollar effort to inject life into customer demand for Starbucks’ coffee.  Using the slogan “It’s not just coffee. It’s Starbucks”, the coffee chain aims to emphasise quality as a unique selling point. The campaign also highlights its sourcing strategy as a key differentiator from its competitors: “anything less is going to leave a bad taste in your mouth”. Although we may be increasingly believing value is all about price and price determines all, Starbucks wants to re-assert the importance of quality and sourcing for customers’ enjoyment of the product, peace of mind and a sense that the extra money is a wise investment in a product that brings about positive externalities rather than negative.

Ian Henderson, managing director of brand agency Totem, argues that “what people are looking for, in this new mood of austerity and thrift, is value….people still want to be good. They just want value from it.”

This could be good news for sustainable development…