COVID and social activism have spurred a renaissance of consumer knowledge around supply chains. Brands are leveraging their ingredient suppliers to demonstrate value-alignment and substantiate their brand promise.
Do consumers care about ingredient brands? Emphatically, yes.
Everyone wants something from the brand they choose: performance, style, sustainability, comfort, luxury, affordability…the list continues. Traditionally, consumers would only associate those attributes with the final product. But as consumers today are more digitally connected and more willing to make values-based purchasing decisions, there is a growing awareness that a product can be more (or less) than the sum of its parts.
A boom in online shopping, combined with more downtime during the height of the pandemic, allowed consumers the time to research brands and products. This trend was amplified by the widespread social activism over the past two years, which catalyzed consumer desire to support brands whose values align with their own.
“As people dig into what really matters to them, they’re rightfully looking to peel back the layers of the brands they want to do business with,” says Dan Legor, Global Director of Marketing at OrthoLite. “Brands can foster this journey by bringing to light the components–or ingredients–that contribute to their final product. Though some brands have been reluctant to ‘pull back the curtain,’ there’s actually an additive effect for consumers.”
That additive effect is the result of a consumer: feeling informed, appreciating the transparency of the brand, and clearly identifying values determined by the choices a brand makes. For consumers who make values- and performance-based buying decisions, the result is emotional connection and early stages of developing trust and loyalty.
Higher Consumer Interest in Supply Chain and Operations Means Higher Profile for Ingredient Brands
Consumer interest in the supply chain started growing long before the current supply chain challenges. Though it wasn’t the only inflection point, the tragic fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2012 was a turning point of awareness for consumers all over the world. People began asking how their clothes were made, where they came from, and who was making them?
The effects of this new line of consumer questioning rippled beyond fast fashion.
Media and consumer-driven campaigns to boycott irresponsible manufacturers in all sectors gained momentum. Brands started posting supply chain details on website product pages. Some doubled down on transparency to earnestly discuss the negative environmental and social impacts of their manufacturing process. Importantly, the most forward-thinking brands also devoted resources to minimizing and mitigating those impacts.
Consumer consciousness awakened to the reality that the products they loved were the sum of their parts, and those parts have footprints of their own. In other words: the ingredients matter.
Putting a “Name to a Feature”: Ingredient Brands Have Always Mattered
“Ingredient brands have always contributed to the consumer appeal or allure of a brand, whether consumers were privy to it or not,” Legor notes. “This is especially true for outdoor, luxury, and even tech brands.”
When a person wants a waterproof, breathable jacket, most think of GORE-TEX, which is ironic because GORE-TEX doesn’t manufacture jackets. For outerwear brands, including GORE-TEX as an ingredient not only elevates performance, it also helps cement the perception of a brand as premium or high performing.
From another angle, aren’t fabrics a critical element of what defines luxury? A designer can create an impeccable sweater in a blended polyester, demonstrating genius in design and construction. But isn’t it the baby cashmere or the Peruvian Vicuña wool that transforms a brilliant concept into true luxury?
Examples of ingredients and ingredient brands helping to cement the brand promise for brands abound. Intel makes processors, which is just one part of a computer, yet the brand became a juggernaut driving personal computer sales. Consumers chose computer brands with “Intel Inside” because of the promise of speed and power.
In a Feature-Rich Landscape, Consumers Turn to Values
“For today’s values-driven consumers, the relevance of ingredient brands extends beyond product features,” Legor continued. “A product is the sum of its parts. When those parts are produced in healthy ways for the planet and for the production team, they lend credence and validation to the finished product and brand values.”
Though consumers want to peel back the supply chain layers, few have the time or inclination to deep dive into every product and brand. A more efficient process is to assess brand values. There is an expectation today brands will be forthright around what they stand for, and will be transparent around how they bring their product to market.
The consumer still needs a few proof points to validate a brand’s claims. How can brands prove that they’re practicing their values?
They can leverage the success of their ingredient brands. As one part of a bigger whole, the suppliers a brand works with substantiate the sincerity of that brand’s promises and values.
Ingredients are Tangible Representations of Brand Promise
As a sum of its design and ingredients, a product represents the consumers’ most intimate experience with a brand, and is, therefore, the ultimate expression of the brand promise. In footwear, brand promises commonly revolve around performance, fashion, comfort, and more recently, sustainability and social sensibilities.
These attributes cannot be separated from the design or the ingredients.
If, for example, a brand champions social justice or sustainability, consumers today expect those values to be reflected in the ingredient brands along the entirety of the supply chain. They are no longer willing to reward low-consequence choices, like hashtag activism and “greenwashing.” Consumers will not tolerate sustainable messaging from a brand whose ingredients are destructive to the environment.
Analyst and investor Richard Kestenbaum wrote in a Forbes article, “[An ingredient brand’s] quality message carries over to the brand it’s inside of. In turn, the products they’re built into benefit from the association with the ingredient brand and presumably the consumer gets a better product.”
Ingredients matter because they are the physical manifestation of a brand’s mission. They matter because their ethos is reflected in the product and what an organization stands for.
The Convergence of the Consumer Purchasing Journey and the Brand’s Purchasing Journey
Just as today’s highly engaged consumer recognizes the power of their purchasing dollar, they also recognize the power of a brand’s purchasing dollar. There is an expectation that brands will use that power for good.
Today’s consumer wants to know who brands work with. Whether they care about performance, quality, cost, comfort or sustainability, they want to see their concerns reflected in their chosen brand’s buying decisions, not just messaging.
Consumer product brands can and should leverage the strengths of their ingredient suppliers. Who you do business with represents your values in the most tangible way.
The Responsibility of the Ingredient Brands
At OrthoLite, our priority is making the absolute best product available, in a way that’s consistent with our own values, and with the marketability and performance that drives value for our brand partners. And while OrthoLite brand awareness may not be as well known as that of our brand partners, consumers are bringing ingredient brands, and their social and environmental standards, into their purchasing journey.
At OrthoLite, we believe we have a responsibility to promote our values, our processes, and our environmental and social stewardship,” says Legor. “Elevating our presence in the public mindshare directly elevates that of our brand partners. When we, as an ingredient brand, can help drive demand, the value we bring to our brand partners increases.”
As more of our brand partners choose to co-brand and use hangtags with OrthoLite to elevate their products, the OrthoLite brand name will continue to be more widely recognized by consumers in the marketplace. A prominent ingredient with a loyal fanbase gives our brand partners the opportunity to leverage OrthoLite as a known quality enhancer to their own product.
Much like fast fashion over the past five years, the environmental record of the footwear industry has been scrutinized. Consumers are demanding change, though the complexity of our industry makes it difficult to know exactly what to ask for.
For our brand partners and ourselves, we see this as an opportunity to lead. OrthoLite has consistently made decisions valuing social and environmental responsibility since our founding. While there is always more to be done, it’s time to bring the values to the forefront. We see the current and future value in collaborating with our brand partners to help consumers navigate the existing sustainable options and look forward to a brighter and more sustainable future in footwear.
Moving forward, we will continue to improve and grow our sustainability initiatives and innovations, too.
Footwear brands and ingredient brands are in this together. Our product is part of your product, and our story is a small part of your story. Choosing OrthoLite as an ingredient brand tells your customers that you value comfort, performance, and sustainability. We back those claims with actions.
As brands state their values and brand promises to their consumers, the ingredient brands they choose can help validate that sincerity.