Posts filed under ‘food’

Doing good and doing well

Vera Kiss writes:

In his controversial 1970 New York Times article, Milton Friedman set the tone for a generation when he argued that the sole responsibility of businesses was to generate profit for their shareholders. But today’s Millennials disagree. Even those in corporate ranks. A recent Deloitte survey of a thousand Millennial employees of the firm reveals that 92% reject the idea that the sole measure of a company’s success is profit.

Importantly, more than 50% believe the primary purpose of business is innovation and societal development. This resonates with the Futures Company’s 2011 Global MONITOR survey, which found that 63% of Millennials believe that companies have a responsibility to support the society in which they operate.

Of course, not all Millennials are engaged with social issues. The Futures Company’s Millennial segmentation reveals significant variation between four global groups of Millennials. Against a global average of 62%, 55% of ‘Striders’ and 43% of ‘Satellites’ consider it important in their lives to make a difference. 76% of ‘Steppers’ and 85% of ‘Spirits’, in contrast, agree with this statement. Spirits, the poster children of the generation, stand out for their interest in global and local issues and are concerned with the ethics of consumption.

Millennial attitudes towards business tell us two stories. One now familiar story is about higher expectations of ethical conduct. The newer story is about the increasing appeal of business-inspired and even business-led solutions for global challenges.

We have seen a proliferation of business-inspired initiatives in the development sphere. Microfinance organizations have mushroomed around the world, pinning the hopes of poverty reduction on micro-entrepreneurs and small scale businesses. Websites such as Kiva provide easy connection between micro-donors and entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Importantly, the corporate sector is increasingly drawn into addressing societal issues through solutions that are designed to do long-term good while also being profitable. The founder of microfinance, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, now tours the world engaging big business in social enterprise initiatives that seek to maximise their social impact rather than shareholder returns. He has already partnered with Danone to address childhood malnutrition in Bangladesh through a business selling fortified yoghurt products. Inclusive business strategies are also gaining visibility, with development agencies partnering with large companies to include bottom of the pyramid consumers as small investors and suppliers.

Business-influenced strategies won’t provide all-encompassing solutions to global issues, or replace public and non-governmental organisations. The point is that businesses can increasingly act as legitimate agents of social change. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as surprise (especially given the sample) that most respondents to the Deloitte survey think that business has the greatest potential of any sector to achieve societal change.

This creates opportunities for businesses and brands to connect with socially conscious Millennials – but they have to understand the differences within the cohort, and be able to demonstrate real impact through their business practices.

The picture of the Danone Grameen logo on the side of its factory at Bogra is from the Danone Communities Flickr photostream, and it is used with thanks.

12 March 2012 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

Eating my greens

Eleanor Cooksey writes:

Early January, and it’s the time of year to be making New Year’s resolutions. After over-indulging during the festive season, it makes sense to decide to eat more healthily. And I would also like to try to be more green. However, I am not sure the two are compatible.

It might seem healthier to cook my cottage pie from scratch at home, but a study shows there are lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions involved in microwaving a ready meal version. This is because mass manufacture involves much more efficient use of resources and appliances, and being provided in portion format, is less likely to lead to wasting opened ingredients (such as that bit of mince that didn’t fit in the pan) or unconsumed cooked food (someone forgot the leftovers hidden at the back of the fridge).

Fine – so it looks like it could be better to eat ready prepared food, and many manufacturers are trying very hard to make their products healthier, for example by using oils high in polyunsaturated fats as oppose to saturated fat. However, it’s not that straightforward, as these oils need more water to clean the residues off the production lines, and I am not keen on increasing the embedded water content in what I eat.

Perhaps I would be better off to keep things simple, eat less meat, and focus on my ‘five a day‘. But who would have thought that it is greener to eat a salad with tomatoes imported from Spain than local produce needing lots of energy to heat the greenhouse, or that an English apple will have been consuming energy to stay fresh in refrigeration  throughout the winter? Or that going for fish is equally challenging given the amount of research needed to ensure you are eating from truly sustainable sources?

To avoid subsisting on a diet of just Brussels sprouts, turnips and parsnips I need help. How can we cut through the complexity so we can all make good (ie healthy, green and good value) choices as a consumer?

The photograph at the top of this poast is from VegBox Recipes, and is used with thanks.

7 January 2011 at 11:24 am 1 comment

Holiday collection # 2

Liz Walkling: Graffiti Classics:

I can’t remember an evening where I came away with my face aching from laughing and my hands sore from clapping so much.  Our local Arts Centre hosted an evening performance by Graffiti Classics, a professional string quartet of four (two guys, two girls) who met in 1997 when busking in Covent Garden and now perform worldwide.  Playing beautifully while dancing and singing energetically, from Ravel’s Bolero and Strauss to McCartney and Gershwin, cannot be easy. But they made it look so.  Great entertainment, very interactive with the audience, wonderful music performed to a lively stand-up-fall-down routine. Catch them if you can.  Or look them up on Youtube if you can’t.

Eleanor Cooksey: Four Lions

Smothering laughter whilst hiding my face behind hands was how I watched Four Lions, a film directed by Chris Morris about a group of Bradford-based jihadists who try to plan their own UK suicide bombings.

Why did it have this effect on me? I think because it represented the creative equivalent of ‘uncanny valley’ – a term used in robotics to describe how when a robot looks and acts almost like a human, it makes people recoil. Four Lions painted a scenario which seemed so believable and close to reality, it was frightening and almost unbearable. And still terribly, terribly funny.

Lindsay Kunkle:  Food, Inc., by Robert Kenner

A documentary that could change the way you eat forever, shines light on the messy politics of the food industry. Channeling popular food author and activist Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Kenner highlights the not so appetizing origins of our food. Genetically modified produce that refuses to rot, cows raised on unnatural diets of indigestible corn, the sheer over-abundance of corn in the marketplace, and the backhandedness of the soy industry are leaving us the victims as we battle food-borne illness, an out-of-hand obesity epidemic, and an economy that rewards unfair business, literally starving the small farmer.

The picture of Graffiti Classics is by Astralsound, and is used here with thanks.

28 December 2010 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

A cake for ‘blue Monday’

Sophie Stringer writes:

The papers have been talking about ‘Blue Monday’ today – apparently the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year.  While the methods used to divine the gloomiest day on the calendar might be suspect to the point of dodginess, some brightening up of a Monday afternoon can never go amiss.

So this Monday, we were lucky to have cake to distract us.  Cake Club is becoming a weekly ritual in the London office; at 4pm tools are downed, tea is served and homemade cake is shared in the kitchen.

This week’s particularly fine offering was the plum and almond tart baked by Gus (yes, that’s the actual cake in the picture at the top of this post), but over the past few months we’ve seen everything from pumpkin bread to rocky road. The idea is simple – each week someone different makes a cake at the weekend, and brings it in on Monday.  Everyone is invited, the only rules of Cake Club are that participants have at least a mild intention to bake, and cake should be consumed seated while chatting (and not about work).

I could say something apposite at this point about Cake Club being indicative of our desire to embrace the authentic and relearn past skills, or evidence of the changing nature of our expectations of the workplace. But it should be enough just to be about cake.

18 January 2010 at 6:42 pm Leave a comment

Hiding out in the coffee wars


Alex Steer writes:

Starbucks hasn’t had it easy, at least for the past decade. But whether being attacked by Naomi Klein for alleged anti-competitiveness in No Logo in 2001, or more literally attacked by demonstrators during a rally in London in January, Starbucks has always toughed it out. Until the recession, that is.

In late 2008, McDonald’s set up a giant billboard outside Starbucks HQ in its home town of Seattle. Proclaiming that ‘Four Bucks Is Dumb’, it advertised McDonald’s new line of (less expensive) espresso coffees. It was a well-timed campaign, and to judge from its share price, Starbucks spent three months in shock.

Its new strategy, announced last week, suggests that the coffee giant still has the caffeine jitters. It has opened three new outlets in Seattle – without any Starbucks branding. 15th Ave. Coffee and Tea and its sisters look and feel like independents. The muted press release from Starbucks says that the unbranded stores offer ‘new opportunities for discovery, a high level of interaction and a deep connection to the local community’.

But these things – experience, interaction, community – are central to Starbucks’s brand. Hiding the brand suggests a company with an identity crisis. Perhaps Starbucks has been told that, in a recession, consumers retrench to the familiar and local. This may be true, but research from the US and elsewhere suggests that reports of a ‘bonfire of the brands’ are somewhat exaggerated.

The fuller story is that, for American consumers, price matters more. It’s no longer the poor relation to quality and convenience. But price isn’t everything. The brands that thrive in the downturn will be those that offer quality and experience at a fair price and give consumers what they want – for example, acting on the recessionary trend towards going out for breakfast, not dinner (good news for coffee houses).

So four bucks may not be bad – if they come with a little bit more of a bang. Starbucks needs to show its consumers that it understands this. But to build this trust, it needs to keep on being Starbucks.

The picture at the top is of Rob Brandt’s ‘Crushed Coffee Cup’ design, and is used with thanks.

28 July 2009 at 10:01 am 1 comment

Avocados, ethics and supermarket histories


Alex Steer writes:

The avocado pear’s name is the product of selective memory. Our word for the South American vegetable comes originally from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which means ‘testicle’. This unfamiliar word was borrowed into Spanish, but mishearing and confusion with the easier-to-remember word for ‘advocate’ or ‘lawyer’, avocado, led to this being used for the pear. Avocado was borrowed into English in the late 17th century, and has stuck.

The avocado has in recent weeks found itself at the centre of a standoff between two supermarkets. Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer have launched TV adverts – commemorating their 140th and 125th anniversaries respectively – in which they each appear to take the credit for introducing the avocado to Britain. The avocado is now an advocate in supermarkets’ increasingly fierce battle for market share, but it is arguing the case for both sides.

There has been no shortage of ads harking back to the past recently – Sainsbury’s, M&S, Hovis, Persil – and no shortage of commentators noticing this. Most have identified that behind these campaigns lies a perceived yearning by consumers for the securities of nostalgia and tradition. Hovis’s strapline – ‘As good today as it’s always been’ – resonates with wary, recession-weary shoppers who are longing for a little sanity. Nostalgia brands are brands that have stayed the course; brands you can trust.

But Sainsbury’s and M&S are not just saying they are reliable retailers. They are saying they are responsible, ethical ones, and that they always were: employing women, helping the planet, doing their bit for the war effort. These campaigns are histories, written to appeal to the values and good citizenship modern consumers seek from brands.

The demand for corporate social responsibility is relatively new, and it’s hard for older brands not to look like they’re jumping on today’s bandwagon, compared to new brands who have built CSR into their blood and bone. By framing their histories in terms of modern values, retailers are telling consumers that, unlike the avocado, they were always advocates, representing quality and fairness. It remains to be seen if consumers will buy this, or conclude that it’s all a load of ahuacatls.

The picture at the top – a photograph of a painting – is borrowed, with thanks, from Betweenland on flickr.

15 June 2009 at 9:09 am 2 comments

The end of the line?


Camilla Parke writes:

I must admit that I sat a little uncomfortably through the opening minutes of The End of the Line, the documentary screened on World Oceans Day, in which violent shots of blood drenched waters were interplayed with images of bloated Europeans gorging on sushi. My guilt is not misplaced; as an unquestioning consumer I have contributed to the problem journalist Charles Clover uncovers in this film: the little known damage that overfishing is doing to the world’s oceans. Significant improvements in fishing technology, huge increases in consumer demand and poorly enforced, inadequate quotas have decimated our seas. The impact on biodiversity is alarming: if overfishing continues at its current rate, scientists predict we will be out of most fish by 2048.

The plight of one endangered species in particular – Bluefin tuna – was explored in the film, and the press this week have focused on those retailer and restaurateurs that have (and have not) responded to calls to find more sustainable alternatives. A number of places are getting it right, and have been for some time – Feng Sushi in London’s Borough market has been sustainably sourcing its fish for the last 10 years. But for larger companies, the challenges are more significant.

Japanese restaurant Nobu seem unfazed by petitions from its celebrity diners to remove Bluefin from its menus, content to mention its endangered status on the menu and discretely suggests diners choose an alternative. Others are responding more proactively: Marks and Spencer has committed to only using pole and line caught tuna in its entire range of products; Pret a Manger is making a similar commitment.

Alongside the statistics, one of the most powerful learnings from the film is the fact that it is still possible to reverse the fortune of our oceans – as Clover points out, the answer is ‘not rocket science’. Although one hurdle is the inadequacy of current policy, one of the most important things we can do as consumers is to make more noise. Ask shops and restaurants how fish is sourced, and avoid those that are unsustainable. This really means thinking more and consuming less – a challenge given our love affair with eating fish. But if we don’t want to go hungry in the future, do we really have any other choice?

The photo at the top is borrowed, with thanks, from the End Of The Line website.

11 June 2009 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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