At least, that is, according to research from PMA.
“Research is showing most are doing it because they believe it’s the right thing to do, but many don’t know what ROI is or break-even is for sustainable practices,” Means said.
PMA is trying to help clear up some of the confusion. Part of the association’s Web site dedicated to sustainability includes a “Share your stories” page with examples of initiatives that have worked for other companies.
“There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel if someone’s already figured it out,” Means said.
The route for many companies is to just try and figure out little areas where they can make a difference.
“We’re looking at everything we do in a different way,” said Rachel Leach, marketing manager for Russet Potato Exchange, Bancroft, Wis. “All of our inputs, we’re looking at how they affect our outputs.”
The end result is the most important factor, Dlott said in his presentation. Companies should spend less time on what was done, and more on what its result is.
With produce companies, the trend is toward sustainable practices that also help return on investment, Means said.
Overall, companies need to break through the clutter and get a clear message to consumers, who may misinterpret some factors as sustainable.
“For example, it’s easy to get into this black-and-white thing that if it’s local it’s more sustainable, but that’s not necessarily the case,” Means said. “Because of economies of scale, the big company might be more sustainable.”
The same is true for organics, which are often interpreted by the consumer as sustainably grown, while conventional product can also be grown sustainably.
“You’ve got to be careful when you listen to green advocates who support a movement away from industrial farming,” said Todd Miedema, director of marketing for Miedema Produce Inc., Hudsonville, Mich. “There’s a reason the food budget is the smallest part of the family budget. It’s good to be environmentally friendly, but you’ve got to have your head on straight.”
PMA’s first Fresh Connections event focused on sustainability will be hosted by Means on Sept. 15 in Minneapolis.