10 Ideas to Use your Third-Party Certifications
For brands operating in the health food sector, finding ways to connect with potential customers looking for healthier food options that correspond with their nutrition and dietary choices is one of the essential parts of building your branding and marketing strategy. In a food market that is unfortunately dominated by “green-washing” and dubious health claims, how can you tell consumers that, as a company, you take seriously your commitment to providing healthy and nutritious food items? Third-party certifications are widely considered to be one of the best ways to connect with health-conscious customers.
One recent health and wellness survey determined that 44 percent of consumers in the United States and Canada tend to distrust or doubt what manufacturers claim on their food labels. With fast food joints and traditional junk food companies all joining the chorus of supposedly offering health(ier) food alternatives, this mistrust shouldn’t surprise. One way to differentiate your brand from these “run-of-the-mill” claims is to invest in rigorous third-party certifications whose certification procedures are overseen by an impartial third-party testing agency. These certification agencies generally have exacting standards and practices to test and affirm when a product, process, or service has attained or achieved specific predetermined, written criteria.
In recent years, third-party certifications have become more common in the food industry and have expanded to several other sectors and areas of the economy. For example, today, there are at least 50 forest and sustainable wood certification programs in the construction and home improvement industry, commanding a massive share of the lumber and wood building products in the United States, Canada, and Europe. According to the US National Association of State Foresters, credible forest certification programs include the following fundamental elements:
- That they have independent governance
- That they are a multi-stakeholder standard
- That the Certification be independent
- That there be a straightforward process for complaints/appeals
- That there be open participation and transparency.
Certified wood products generally cost 10-20 percent more than their non-certified counterparts due to the extra auditing costs involved in tracking the chain of custody. Despite this added premium, millions of builders and homeowners are more than willing to pay the additional fee to do their part to support environmentally friendly forestry practices.
The same tendency is evident in the food industry, where customers are increasingly prepared and willing to pay higher prices for everything from organic produce to fair-trade coffee. In short, people want healthy and ethically-sourced food items to put on their dinner tables. However, only some people have the time, energy, or means to ensure that these desires for healthy and ethical food are fulfilled.
One recent study by NSF International determined that most US consumers (61 percent) are seriously concerned about the safety of food and other consumer products. However, only about one-third of those consumers (34 percent) rarely, if ever, make an effort to research their safety concerns and label claims. The increasingly long and complex supply chains that dominate the food industry make it difficult for consumers to research and verify claims on their own reliably.
Given this reality, organizations offering third-party Certification offer a viable alternative wherein consumers can place their trust. The demanding process of conducting an investigation, inspection, or audit to ensure that certain food products meet the criteria outlined in the standards is increasingly gaining consumers’ trust. In contrast to first-party and second-party certifications, third-party certification organizations cannot have any direct financial interest in the relationship between the supplier and the buyer to maintain the standards’ ethics, impartiality, and integrity.
Third-party certifications act as a trustworthy medium of communication that a brand has successfully adhered to a set of quality standards throughout the supply chain. Instead of simply trusting the claims of the food brand, consumers can place their confidence in the third-party Certification that affirms the product claims of the supplier. Third-party Certification is an effective way for brands to increase consumer trust, confidence, and sales due to enhanced transparency, the trustworthiness of on-package claims, and improved social proof from an impartial organization upholding universal standards.
For food brands who make an effort to invest in third-party certifications, how exactly can you use those certifications effectively and operatively that allow you to connect with customers, develop a loyal customer base, and stand out from the competitors? Below, we offer a few ideas and suggestions for how health food brands can get the most “bang for the buck” they invest in those third-party certifications.
Make your Third Party Certifications Observable on the Front and Center of your Packaging
This first suggestion should be the most obvious: ensure your third-party Certification is visible on the front of your packaging. Almost all third-party certification agencies (including Paleo and Keto certification) issue a certificate, logo, and permission to bear the certification logos that signify compliance to consumers, retailers, and industry regulators.
Designing attractive packaging that organically incorporates your third-party certifications is the best way to connect with customers looking for the characteristics and attributes your third-party Certification attests to. Unfortunately, many food brands hide those logos on the back parts of their packaging next to the nutrition label. In a physical retail setting, most consumers will not take the time to pick up that packaging to read or inspect the “fine print” of the back label. Imagine a potential customer walking through a supermarket who recently decided to take up a low-carb diet. Seeing the Keto-Certified label on the front of a health food snack product would drastically increase the probability of converting that potential customer to a sale.
Make your Certifications Noticeable on your Website
Secondly, almost all health food brands understand that online commerce offers an increasingly effective way to connect with customers. Even though many customers have returned to in-person shopping after the worst years of the COVID-19 pandemic, online purchases of food items continue to command a sizeable portion of the market. According to one recent poll, in 2021, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of the consumers surveyed said they’d made an online grocery purchase in the past three months – compared with 17 percent who said this was the case in 2017.
For brands with an online presence, a website, or selling foods via e-commerce platforms, you should also place your third-party Certification on your website in a prominent and easy-to-see location. Besides locating your certification logos on the top bar of your website, you should also incorporate these logos on all digital branding images you use.
Furthermore, throughout the text of your website, make sure to liberally use the terms associated with your Certification. For Paleo-certified food products, using the words “Paleo-certified,” “Paleo-friendly snacks,” and other similar phrases will boost your Google and other search engine ratings. Known as search engine optimization, or SEO, using these “keywords” throughout your website (along with the logos themselves) is an easy way to increase the odds that consumers find your website while surfing the web. A customer who recently decided to try the Paleo diet will most likely spend a fair amount of time researching and reading about the perks of this diet online. By optimizing your SEO content around your Paleo certification, there is a much greater chance that this potential customer finds your brand and decides to try your product.
Broadcast your Certifications on your Social Media Channels
Social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and yes, even Tiktok are also great ways to connect with customers. Another recent survey determined that 76 percent of consumers have purchased a product they saw in a brand’s social media post. Eleven percent of those consumers bought the product immediately, and 44 percent purchased it later online.
Though consumers may look for food brands based on the company’s actual name, it is more common that they search for food items with specific characteristics. For example, a consumer vehemently against genetically modified foods might search for non-GMO certifications through their social media channels. Thus, displaying your third-party certifications in visible and noticeable locations throughout your social media channels is another important and valuable way to utilize your certifications.
Announce your Third Party Certifications at Tradeshows, Fairs, Etc. where you Participate
Going to tradeshows is a great way to present your brand, meet your peers in the health food world, educate yourself about trends in the industry, and do a competitor analysis to see how your brand is faring. Tradeshows can also be a highly efficient marketing tool (you can check out our blog post here about the top 6 Keto tradeshows for Keto brands).
Suppose you do participate as a brand in a tradeshow. In that case, it is always a good idea to have printed promotional material on hand to share with customers, retail buyers, and others interested in your company. Placing the logos of your third-party Certification is a great way to showcase to people the values of your brand and what you stand for. Make sure to put your third-party certifications on all printed publicity. Also, print those logs on your banners, posters, etc. By identifying your certifications, potential retail buyers and others may be enticed to single out your brand and approach you to learn more about your products.
Retailers have an enormous amount of data and insight regarding industry trends, and they know that consumers are showing increasing interest in food brands that can prove their health benefits. By promoting your third-party certifications during a tradeshow, you are helping buyers know that your brand has put in the extra work and investment to put your company in line with these consumer trends.
Use your Third Party Certifications at Retail Booths and Exhibitions
Once your brand has begun working with different retail stores, consider making a pitch to set up a unique stand or exhibition of your product. In some cases, the retailer may suggest these exhibitions to promote certain groups of products. Suppose you are fortunate enough to set up a stand or display at a retail store (or group of stores). In that case, printing your third-party certifications on the banner, poster, or other marketing tools designed for that exhibit is a great idea. This will increase the appeal of the stand and will be especially appealing to consumers looking for products that fit the Certification.
Use the Logos of your Third Party Certifications in your Pitches to Retailers
If your brand has yet to venture into the retail world, it is always a good idea to let retailers know which third-party certifications you boast. Letting the retailer know your brand story and how it relates to the certifications can help create a sense of understanding and identification with the retail purchaser. Besides putting the certification logs on your pitches to the retailer, you can also briefly explain why you chose to invest in this Certification.
Mention or Reference your Third Party Certifications in All Media Outlets
Generating media content around your brand and the health food products that you sell should be another arm of your overall marketing strategy. Generally, media mentions fall into the categories of paid, owned, and earned media. Earned media, which is publicity or exposure gained from methods other than paid advertising, is the best way to help push brand awareness. If you are contacted by media members who want to feature your company in some media (written, TV, radio, online, etc.), mention several times the third-party certifications your brand boasts. Sometimes, the journalist may need help understanding the significance of your third-party Certification, but it is essential to consistently include that information in the final product.
Alternatively, and this admittedly might be a long shot, it might also be worthwhile to approach celebrities, influencers, and well-known local figures who are attracted to the values behind your certifications. Just because some A-list celebrity has recently raved about the Paleo diet doesn’t mean they will jump at the opportunity to offer your brand free publicity. However, approaching influencers and local personalities who share the values behind your brand (and your certifications) can be a great way to promote your products and grow your brand.
Print your Certifications on Reusable Packaging
In a recent article on our website, we talked about some of the difficulties with recycling and how one inspiring company is helping to devise strategies to eliminate packaging waste by introducing reusable packaging products into the commercial supply chain. Though it may still be several years before reusable packaging makes significant inroads into the food industry, reusable packaging, including refillable bottles, food containers, and cups, may one day offer a perfect opportunity to showcase your third-party certifications.
For smaller food brands that sell locally at farmer’s markets and similar local food venues, printing your third-party certifications on reusable cloth bags that you give away or sell to your customers is one example of how you might consider using your third-party certifications in this regard.
Find Online Communities with potential Consumers Interested in what your Certification Entails
Another way to connect with consumers who will be naturally drawn to your brand and the food items you sell is through finding and participating in online communities. For example, hundreds of different Facebook groups are related to or promote The Paleo Diet. The “Paleo Diet for Beginners” Facebook group, to name just one example, has over 100,000 active members. Participating in these related online communities is a great way to increase your brand awareness amongst naturally-inclined consumers. In any posts you share about your brand or products you sell, make sure to include the logos of your third-party certifications so that members of the group will know that your brand is serious about its commitment.
Print your Third Party Certification on Related Branding Merchandise
Lastly, if your company decides to invest in branding merchandise such as clothing items, coffee mugs, etc., it is also a good idea to put your certification logos on those pieces of merchandise. This offers a straightforward way to inform consumers that your company has invested in these certifications.
The Paleo Foundation is proud to offer various certification programs to help brands increase consumer trust, confidence, and sales because of increased transparency, the believability of on-package claims, product differentiation strategies, and social proof. Our Grain-Free, Paleo, and Keto certification programs are geared towards their respective food tribes and thus offer enhanced trust signaling power over more traditional food certifications. People are passionate about their diets. With the increasing demand for healthier, more transparent, ‘clean’ foods, health food brands of all sizes should take advantage of every possible opportunity to let customers know, see, and recognize their third-party certifications.