Did you know that here at The Hartman Group we have a team dedicated to translating consumer behavior and food culture into strategic growth opportunities for our clients? The social scientists, business analysts and consultants who comprise our Retainer Services team understand where and how cultural trends start, how to identify the sites of innovation and how to assess the likelihood of early trends gathering momentum.

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What they have learned and continue to uncover allows us to upend many notions of our traditional American eating and drinking patterns, thereby identifying unique opportunities and winning strategies for our clients. In short, they can help challenge and change the way you think about your consumers, brands and business.

With an ever-watchful eye on the happenings in the world around us, here is a collection of our Retainer Services team’s POV about sustainability, innovation in shopping … and the ever-changing face of food and beverage culture.


While carbon labels suggest transparency for the entire production life cycle, carbon offset projects have a long history of overpromising and underdelivering, along with a lack of regulation in its use and meaning that may hinder long-term resonance—much like the “natural” label. Symbols and certifications like non-GMO and organic have become shorthand for consumers to quickly see if products align with their food and wellness needs. However, the evolving consumer distrust in labels like “natural” illustrates potential dilution of a label’s impact devoid of regulation and/or a clear, universal set of attributes. As greenwashing-wary consumers become attuned to brands’ promoted sustainability practices, they will expect companies to go beyond paying towards low-carbon projects and compensate for their own emissions as the practice has been increasingly mired in scientific problems and scandals, and widely critiqued in the social sciences.

The topic of soil health is moving beyond engaged consumer circles as more consumers begin to understand how food quality and nutrient density start with healthy soil. Pesticides are already viewed as chemicals that can cause health effects, and 48% of consumers say that pesticide-free is important when shopping (Hartman’s Organic and Beyond 2020 report), providing strong motivation to seek organic products. As Big Food continues to participate in regenerative agriculture, the reduction of pesticides for both personal and soil health has grounds to become more prominent.  


Amazon’s continued experimentation in brick-and-mortar retail underscores its appetite for capturing behavioral data and food spending in 2021’s disrupted, dynamic food sourcing landscape. An accelerated consumer shift toward omnichannel shopping patterns during COVID-19 is reshaping grocery procurement: over half of consumers shop both physical and online food retailer channels in the wake of the pandemic (Hartman’s Food Sourcing 2020 report). Amazon’s investments (and those of competitors like Walmart) reflect the varied and intersecting arenas of competition in grocery today, bringing new energy and technological innovation to bear on long-standing consumer frictions and supply-side challenges of physical retail.


Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with CBD? There is no doubt that consumers and companies would like to see federal government action to regulate the patchwork cannabis market that has emerged in the U.S. over the past decade, as such a move would bring significantly more certainty to a market plagued with legal ambiguity, a lack of transparency and varying levels of access and enforcement. Whenever clearer laws and regulations do come into being, it will be important to ensure an equitable and competitive market that remains true to the values of the cannabis legalization movement that has fostered the budding industry—rooted in social justice and sustainability. Consumers are increasingly interpreting the quality of products through the lens of such values, particularly for products like CBD and cannabis that derive much of their appeal as an alternative approach to “big pharma” and industrialized pharmaceuticals.


“Farm-to-door” butcher Belcampo was founded in 2012 and quickly rode the farm-to-table trend to success and rapid growth, promising consumers more humanely raised meats and poultry to support better human and environmental health. As Hartman research has shown, consumers are placing greater emphasis on both the production and sourcing narratives of their food and expect producers to stand behind their products. Revelations of misrepresentation of a key element of Belcampo’s brand could undermine consumer confidence in the claims of not only this company but others that rely on similar sourcing and production narratives. It underscores the importance of constant supply-chain monitoring and integrity for producers, especially those who build their brands on claims around sourcing and processing.

If you want insights that lead to action, learn more about Hartman Retainer Services programs and deliverables by contacting our SVP, Shelley Balanko, Ph.D. Contact: shelley@hartman-group.com