Lisa Lupo

Discussion of the need for supply chain transparency along with consumer communication and education is not a new topic for this column or QA overall. But until last month, I’d not known that consumers’ purchasing decisions based on product transparency, traceability, and authenticity could be wrapped into a neat, single-word package: buycott.

Although Googling the word pulls up more than two million results, it’s not one I’d come across until I read Michael Sansolo’s March 6 Morning News Beatarticle. The article discusses buycotting as an emerging trend in reaction to the new policies on gun sales of some retailers. In diligently searching backward through the web, I then found references to buycotting as far back as 1989, such as the LA Times article “ACLU Starts a ‘Buycott’ of TV Programs”. As described in that article, the union campaign included a buycott “in which members will be urged to go out of their way to buy the companies’ products.”

Buycott is defined by a number of online dictionaries as “the opposite of a boycott: deliberately purchasing a company’s or a country’s products in support of their policies, or to counter a boycott.”

So while it may be an emerging trend in the current political environment, any food business that has added label designations such as natural, organic, GMO-free, gluten-free, etc., can vouch that it is only the word buycotting (vs. the action it portrays) that is new to the food industry. Consumers have been buycotting — and boycotting — foods for years based on a vast array of social issues, such as ethical sourcing and humane treatment of animals.

Long aware of the negative impact of a boycott, businesses often seek to keep a low profile on controversial issues. However, because exactly the opposite is needed to encourage the benefits of a buycott, this trend of conscious buying is of importance to businesses of all industries and sizes.

Interestingly, even as I was writing this, I received a press release from a company that gets it — and broadcasts it right in the headline: “Consumers Have Spoken: Steaz Cactus Water now Steaz Prickly Pear Water.” The article goes on to cite Steaz CEO Linda Barron, who explained that the company’s consumer campaign showed that few understood what its product was. So, she said, “As a brand that is dedicated to consumer transparency and clean labels, we ultimately felt it was the right decision to relaunch the line with a name that better communicates what it is. Now we are shining a light on the prickly pear fruit, and consumers who are not yet familiar with the amazing functional ingredient will know exactly what they are getting.” 

Taking it a step further, the home page of the company’s website prominently displays its “best possible ingredients” sourcing with a link to “Go behind the label.” And it directly hits on consumers’ ethical sourcing hot button by discussing how “every sip makes a difference” in its fair-trade sourcing — i.e., purchasing the beverage will help save the developing world.

If you’ve ever had trouble convincing your E-suite that transparency, social responsibility, and ethical sourcing are more than a cost-center, they are good for business, you can now add consumer buycotting to your rationale.

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at llupo@gie.net.