Are sugar companies exploiting the cache of social responsibility?

Published online: Jul 26, 2016 News
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New research from University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business offers a compelling insight into how big businesses are capitalizing on consumers willingness to pay more for socially responsible products – phenomenon, known as “conspicuous conservation."

For most of the top and successful sugar companies with strong corporate social responsibility agenda, the actual research findings may simply confirm their corporate stance. But the point is, to what extent, if at all these companies flag up their socially responsible credentials forcefully to make it known to consumers more explicitly and capitalize on them?

The researchers cite several examples of socially responsible innovations. Toyota’s launch of the hybrid Prius attracted particular interest from “green conscious” consumers who were willing “to pay for the green social value …in the range of $430-$4200." Another example, Levi’s launched its Water Less jeans line in 2011. This came after Levi’s spent three years developing a process to create denim that required up to 96% less water in the manufacturing process. Clorox’s Green Works spent over $20 million to produce eco-friendly, natural cleaning products.

In the sugar industry it is less the case of producing a sugar in socially innovative way, but rather a company adhering to and managing its operations in a manner that heed socially responsible norms.

It is worth examining three examples in the sugar industry from companies in three continents. AB Sugar has been outstanding in profitizing from variety of waste streams emanating from beet sugar processing. One of the co-products of their environmentally sound recycle and reuse approach is the production of tomatoes in greenhouses which exploits waste heat and carbon dioxide generated at its beet sugar factory. Some 10% of tomatoes supplied to the supermarkets in UK are claimed to come from British Sugar’s greenhouses. I have been to practically all the major supermarkets in UK over the past year, and have not come across AB Sugar branded tomatoes – these are arguably “socially responsible” boasting “conspicuous conservation”.