How are consumers responding to positive impact? Learn from Fairphone, Kumasi Drinks, Wakuli and Bionext experience

After 2 years without face-to-face meetings, the Living Wage & Income Lab filled a room with NGOs and companies to discuss one central question: what are the key elements of a successful marketing strategy for sustainable products? Below you can read the take-aways and find out how to participate in the next session!

Okay, you’ve set your company’s impact goals and tweaked your business model to get there. You’ve definitely done the hardest part, and we’d love to say that from here on out, all will be fine. But working closely with companies has shown us that there is a long way to go in engaging consumers and, more importantly, partners who can help you get there faster.

That’s why it only made sense that after the previous session of the Living Wage & Income Lab, in which we discussed sustainable business models, we moved on to discussing effective ways to communicate your sustainable mission and engage the people around you. To that end, we brought together experts from Fairphone, the first company in electronics to support a supplier with a living wage; Bionext, bringing the perspective of decent salaries and prices from the organic market; Wakuli, using specialty coffee to lift farmers out of poverty; and Kumasi Drinks, which is marketing juice made from cocoa pulp, part of the fruit commonly discarded by the Big Choco industry.

This hybrid session began with an insightful talk that was recorded and can be watched here. Following, an offline workshop led by Linda Klunder, from Kumasi Drinks, anticipated their first marketing campaign that will take to the streets across the Netherlands soon. From a group tasting, Lab participants reflected on how visual elements, product quality and the actual product impact played their part in convincing consumers. A nice exercise to reignite the flame after 2 years years without in-person meetings, and to warm up for the next 2 sessions that’ll follow later this year. (Do you want to join the audience, or share your company’s experiences? Write us at [email protected])

Living Wage and Income Lab - Marketing a Fair Product
“Good coffee is a reason to buy and impact is a reason to stay”. Wakuli’s work with farmers to boost their income, but also their products’ quality, is steering consumers feel good feedback after every coffee bag.
Lies Uljee Chief Brand and Marketing at Wakuli


The speed with which carbon and deforestation stories hit the news made the environmental factor central in sustainability narratives. Making it clear to consumers that the social aspect is an equally important cog in our food system’s transformation is the challenge for impact brands today. Kumasi Drinks, for one, is working with cocoa farmers in Ghana to alleviate poverty and food waste by turning the fruit pulp into an extra source of income for cocoa families. Ignored by the bean-hungry chocolate industry, cocoa pulp is still a niche restricted to chefs and connoisseurs. Linda Klunder and her colleagues want to open up the European market for this “new” product.

The story that the product has already added 30% to the farmer’s income is particularly exciting, along with the fact that they are including women in this new alternative income-generating activity. But is that enough for consumers? “That’s quite a long, difficult story”, Linda admitted, “but that is really what’s going to change something in the commodity chain. If we only focus on the number of phones and kilos bought, we’re lacking the system’s change type of message that we should be putting out there. Otherwise, other commodities are not going to change.” Initial feedback from Kumasi drinkers showed consumers are intrigued by the mission against food loss and poverty. The X factor, however, is proving something new – and that’s exactly how Kumasi is putting marketing efforts to use.  

Translating your impact 

A consensus among the four speakers was that shoving the message down consumers’ throats is not an option. Launched in 2013, Fairphone was the first electronics company to support a supplier with a living wage. However, this is one among many other sustainable claims. According to Remco Kouwenhoven, Fairphone’s Social Impact Innovator, consumers are often attracted, for example, to the fact that they offer a modular phone, which is easier to repair and has a longer lifespan. “It’s important to understand what consumers want, and that different consumers have different information needs,” he explains, noting that these change all the time. 

A layered content strategy was their way to navigate these needs: from a simple message to capture consumers’ attention, to the details of their journey to fairer phones. “Our communication starts with four points in the webshop saying that we support better working conditions and a decent wage,” he explained. “It evolves until we actually say 1.99 US dollars of your purchasing goes to factory workers for a living wage.” From there, making it relatable for the European consumer can mean showing how little it costs to help a person struggling, and offering reports and long blog posts explaining what their work actually means.

Without evidence, no message holds up

How do you verify that that 1.99U$ really reaches the workers, the audience asked. “When we make claims, we need to make sure there is credible information available somewhere that backs your company up. For the conscious consumer, rating companies or other stakeholders, the answer is second party verification. Random on-site verification of amounts received and living wage bonuses are done via payslips or bank transfers. This need was felt after Fairphone noticed bonuses targeted at workers who no longer worked in certain factories. But why a second-party verification and not a third-party auditor? “Finding this third party who understood our request correctly has been a challenge,” he shared. It’s a journey, after all. The solution for now is to invest in additional elements, such as a grievance channel that voices workers’ concerns.

The role of Certifications in all this

The path to translating and backing up your information includes a third element: communicating this complex journey in simple ways that resonate best with the consumer. Fairphone marketing headlines explore its Fairtrade verified gold, for example. As for Kumasi Drinks, whose chain is pretty short, it could place a necessary burden on already vulnerable farmers. Bionext’s director, Michael Wilde, brought the perspective of the Organic sector, which has become a powerful ally in the message of fair wages. “When a person buys an organic product, they also expect the social side to be in order, whereas organic regulation now doesn’t talk about the social side. It’s a huge responsibility for anyone involved with organic to have at least a social plan and story. We need to be far beyond what is happening in conventional agriculture,” he explained. While ecological and health concerns often come to the fore, Michael says that this is changing fast: “People are paying more for an accountable product, and they want all the boxes filled, not just a few.”

Planting the seed 

Founded to lift farmers out of poverty, certification is not Wakuli’s priority. The company works closely with producers from 14 origins, resulting in a traceable product full of stories to be shared in what they call a “replenishment model”. Head of Marketing, Lies Uljee, bets on the positive impact an everyday-product can have. “We want to switch consumer behaviour towards specialty coffee because it makes the price less arbitrary. Prices go up and growers who depend on it for their incomes get more grip on their own payments.” Their challenge, therefore, is to make specialty coffees accessible. “This product is expensive, is not yet in every corner of the Netherlands, and many do not even know the name ‘specialty coffee’.” Wakuli is cutting the snobby language surrounding it, and more importantly, they are cutting the price by reducing intermediaries involved in their product chains. By sending the products straight to clients’ homes, they reduced 50% of their price. 

Lies has already learned what works: good coffee is a reason to buy and impact is a reason to stay. Working closely with farmers, they can boost their income, but also the quality – and in the end, it all hits consumers’ mailboxes. “We get the “feel good” feedback every time we send coffee. And that’s what keeps people around.” A toast to positive impact!

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