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If You Build It, They Will Come: Behind the Scenes of Kashi's Certified Transitional Initiative

Kashi CEO David Denholm presents the Certified Transitional initiative at SB'16 San Diego on June 8. | Images credit: Randy Tunnell/SB

As communications partners, we at Edelman are often asked by clients to help them bring their sustainability stories to life. But despite decades of progress on environmental initiatives, many companies still face challenges building CSR programming that resonates across the organization.

Kashi (an Edelman client), however, took a different approach. In 2014, the company took a fresh look at its core business and asked itself, “Who do we want to be?” In the room that day with the company’s leaders, I saw the germ of an idea to align the company’s purpose to its core business. The result, months later, was true innovation: not incremental progress, but creation of a new market category that would impact the lives of farmers and consumers, and promote sustainable farming – Certified Transitional (see Kashi CEO David Denholm‘s main stage presentation on the initiative at SB’16 San Diego).

Less than 1 percent of farmland in the US is organic – there is simply not enough supply to meet demand. In May 2016, Kashi and independent certifier QAI announced a protocol to incentivize farmers during the three-year transition period between conventional farming practices to meeting standards to be “officially” USDA organic. A price premium to support farmers will eventually lead to increased access to organics. Because organic supply was a challenge for everyone, Kashi made the process open to the public, meaning that any company from any industry can buy Certified Transitional ingredients. And this initiative allows consumers to play a role alongside Kashi to help increase organics and provide more financial certainty to farmers.

Several months of stakeholder engagement with retail partners, environmental NGOs, trade associations, consumers, sustainability thought leaders and supply chain partners, coupled with a sophisticated go-to-market launch plan, helped Kashi successfully launch the new protocol, the first-ever Certified Transitional product and a market-based solution to increase access to organics for more people.

How did Kashi do it?

Here are some insights from behind the scenes:

  • Lead with insights, not a communications campaign – approach any initiative with consumer insights and involve other business functions from day one. From the outset, Certified Transitional was an organization-wide endeavor rooted in Kashi’s consumer insights, supply chain, strategy, marketing and communications from the CEO to junior contributors. Edelman’s sustainability and brand specialists provided strategy and counsel on media and stakeholder engagement to strengthen the platform and plant roots for the idea with thought leaders. This cross-functional team ensured that there was quick alignment and troubleshooting for any risks and questions that needed to be addressed in real time, bulletproofing the idea, execution and storyline.
  • Make it core to your business model - With sustainability core to the growth of the business - think Kashi and Certified Transitional, or GE and ecomagination - companies broaden communications and engagement opportunities. Kashi was able to create a market structure to incentivize an increase in the supply of organics, benefiting its supply chain, engaging stakeholders from retail to farmers to sustainability thought leaders, supporting access to organics for more people, helping farmers to switch to organic, and reaching a broader business audience through one powerful initiative. This enabled our team to take a sustainability storyline and drive a powerful business story to a broader audience.
  • Embrace tension – Getting people to pay attention is more difficult than ever. But by introducing tension in your sustainability storyline, you attract and engage more people to create change. In many respects, this is the easiest element to incorporate because many CSR, purpose, and sustainability initiatives aim to solve problems facing society. Kashi saw a problem to be solved – the dearth of organic farmland in the US. The company saw a way to change this through shifting the way it did business, providing incentives to farmers and an option for consumers to vote with their wallets. As an editor from Huffington Post said, “solutions are shareable.” Don’t be afraid to build tension and resolution into a story.

As a sustainability expert with more than twelve years of experience in corporate strategy, Emily helps organizations align communications strategies with growth goals. Through her career, she has worked with clients from startups to the Fortune 50 in the food… [Read more about Emily Chan]

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