“First of all, sustainable is a pretty big word; it means a lot of different things,” Cornell’s Chris Wolf said in introduction to his answer regarding how consumers understand sustainability versus how food producers comprehend it. “When I think about sustainability, the dairy industry has to be sustainable in at least three different dimensions.”
He outlined those three ways during the October 12, 2022, Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream. They are financially, environmentally, and socially.
Perhaps the most common use of the word is in that second definition – environmentally. “It's got to be environmentally sustainable,” Wolf explained. “What that means is evolving over time. This fundamentally looks very different than it did 20 years ago with what we're looking at now and what we're understanding about environmental impacts.”
To each their own
While farmers likely define sustainability by this financial, environmental, and social definition, consumers are less consistent in what they mean.
“In my view, a lot of times people will pull out the definition that they want to use,” Wolf continued. “Part of it is people assign their own definition to what it means to be sustainable. People go looking for their own facts to support something that they've already concluded.”
Albertsons Companies’ Jordan Clark sees this dichotomy a little differently. He explained that what the company sees consumers do in the store often differs from what they say because of their human natures.
“Sometimes human beings can be complex and contradictory,” he said. “One thing that's fair to say is that human beings are creatures of habit, and we start to adopt ideologies before behaviors. They tend to be a little bit slower sometimes to change even as our ideologies might start to shift a little bit.”
As an industry, he shared that dairy needs to listen to those customer ideologies and values. He told listeners that it is easier to do this than most might think. Everyone — including food producers — is a consumer; lean on that commonality.
“The consumer is reasonably impatient to have more stories that demonstrate that they can feel good in their hearts as they eat the food that's delicious,” Clark detailed. “If we're on the journey with them, I think we'll be able to preserve our license.”
To watch the recording of the October 12 DairyLivestream, go to the link above. The program recording is now also available as an audio-only podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and downloadable from the Hoard’s Dairyman website.
Register to continue receiving updates
The next broadcast of DairyLivestream will be on Wednesday, November 16 at 11 a.m. CDT. As of January 2022, we moved to a new system. If you have not yet, you will need to re-register to continue receiving email updates and links to the webcasts. You can sign up here now. Registering once will sign you up for all future events.