The climate of marketing burgers (Editorial)
Food companies are falling all over themselves to woo socially conscious consumers with enhanced sustainability requirements, niche products and whatever else they hope will bring people through their store doors and up to their drive-up windows.
This is, after all, an age where what you buy signals to everyone else, rightly or wrongly, who you are, how you vote and what you believe. Where food was marketed more on claims of improving human health, as “natural” or fresh, it’s now clearly shifted to claims of improving climate health.
It’s become the new natural.
The latest is Burger King’s Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whopper. Offered for a limited time in just five cities, the burgers are made from cattle fed lemongrass in their last few months before slaughter.
Citing research from universities in Mexico and California, the fast food chain, says it reduces the animals’ methane emissions by 33 percent. But, Digging deeper into the fine print, the touted methane reduction is only for the period of time the cows are eating lemongrass, the true reduction for the full life of the animal is estimated at about five percent.
The research claim is a little murky, too.
Two studies were done, one from University of California-Davis and one at the Autonomous University at the State of Mexico. The California study was deemed inconclusive and the Mexico study, which yielded the 33-percent figure, has yet to be published or peer reviewed.
But that didn’t stop Burger King from putting together a marketing campaign around the claim with kids singing a country music jingle and imagery of Whoppers resting on clouds.
The company has promised to make its findings public but has still not released its target for overall emissions reduction, making the limited time offer look even more suspect.
Companies looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are good, provided they base the decisions on sound science and, in the case of food production, the measures don’t put the squeeze on farmers who would have to acquiesce to new growing specifications.
No doubt the pressure is on chains like Burger King; pressure to increase revenue during a global pandemic that discourages people from restaurants and pressure from investors to reduce it’s company-wide carbon footprint. Passing that pressure down to farmers to produce regardless of the impact on cost or efficiency would be counterproductive.
We are still at the beginning of companies marketing products as eco-friendly, carbon neutral, Earth smart or some other tough-to-verify, but heartwarming label.
Discerning so-called ESG investors, analyzing opportunities through the lens of environmental, social and governance issues, will be scrutinizing and rating companies on their sustainability record, if what they say they do is indeed accurate and measurable.
These investors will be a key factor in showing companies if moves like that of Burger Kings’ lower gas patty are substantive enough to buy in or just a whopper in a paper wrapper.
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