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    EXPERT COLUMN: ‘Good’ Products are Good Business

    Third-party certification builds consumer trust

    By Jesse Laflamme, Pete and Gerry's Organics

    You say you're a values-driven company. But do your customers believe you?

    As shown by recent consumer campaigns to label GMOs and phase out confined-animal farming, more and more food shoppers are looking to do business with companies that align with their values.

    Appealing to shoppers guided by values can be profitable, of course: Witness last year's initial door-busting success of Kroger Co.'s Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic private label brands, not to mention the growth of in-store curated "socially conscious" collections like Target Corp.'s Made to Matter products from leading natural, organic and sustainable brands.

    But at the same time, consumers are growing increasingly skeptical of "greenwashing" and lip-service corporate claims to social responsibility. In the 2014 Cone Communications "Food Issues Trend Tracker," for example, just 54 percent of food shoppers claimed to "trust the information provided by companies about the health and sustainability attributes of their products."

    It's not enough just to say your company is socially responsible. Consumers want credible proof, and will hold companies accountable.

    Last year, Pete and Gerry's Organics became a Certified B Corporation, aligning with Wayne, Pa.-based B Lab, a nonprofit certifying agency that ensures we meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. The “B” stands for “benefit,” meaning that we regularly measure our impact on all of our stakeholders: customers, workers, suppliers, community and the environment.

    Here are a few good reasons to consider stocking “good” products:

    • Proof behind the promises. Aligning yourself with an unbiased and reputable third-party certifier boosts credibility and gives you access to leading expertise. For example, Hy-Vee’s “Responsible Choice” seafood program is guided by the acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium “Seafood Watch” program.
    • Less confusion, more credibility. Consumers seek and generally trust certification seals on product packaging. But the messages can get crowded and confusing between the various certifying agencies whose agendas sometimes overlap (is Rainforest Alliance Certified more important than, say, Fair Trade Certified?). Working with a trusted third-party certifier such as B Lab provides a comprehensive rating system that’s flagged with a single, easily recognized logo.
    • Better engagement with customers. A solid commitment to social responsibility not only helps you stand out from the competition, it also gives customers a platform to connect with you. A recent in-store promotion of B Corp products at Portland Ore.’s New Seasons Markets (itself a B Corporation) generated “strong customer interest and interaction,” according to Vale Jokisch, director of services at B Lab.
    • Solid accountability all along the supply chain. Verification and an inspection schedule through a third party simplify your ability to monitor your suppliers’ environmental and social impact. Even if your suppliers aren’t themselves certified, they can use the certifying agency’s open-source assessment tools as a yardstick. For example, B Lab's online Impact Assessment Tool is free and confidential.
    • A more nimble response to recalls and legislative changes. When problems arise, working with a third-party certifying agency means you have systems already in place to quickly respond to challenges and pinpoint exactly where fixes need to be made. In the case of a product recall, you’ll find that having a strongly engaged customer base will provide a welcome reservoir of good will and trust.
    • Extra confidence in private label relationships. When your brand is behind a wide range of products, having your suppliers accountable to the same standards makes consistent oversight easier and saves umpteen management hassles.
    • Attracting — and keeping — loyal employees. Socially responsible companies appeal especially to Millennials — roughly half of today’s workforce — many of whom seek work that “connects to a larger purpose,” Harvard Business Review reports. 

    In our four generations as a farming family, trust has always been our most powerful asset, no matter what our balance sheets looked like. Having B Corp certification is our assurance to our customers that our values will always be a part of what we do. It’s important to them, and it will always be important to us.

    It's just—well, good business.

    By Jesse Laflamme, Pete and Gerry's Organics
    • About Jesse Laflamme Jesse Laflamme is CEO of Pete and Gerry’s Organics, an egg producer based in Monroe, N.H., and the first animal-farming business to earn B Corp certification. He can be reached at [email protected]

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