By Andy Hanacek, editor-in-chief, The National Provisioner

Citing extensive data gathered by her organization, Maryellen Molyneaux, president and managing partner of the Natural Marketing Institute, told seminar attendees Wednesday morning at the Worldwide Food Expo in Chicago that the tipping point has been reached in terms of consumer knowledge of sustainability.

Molyneaux believes the old model of the food industry needs to be reinvented to meet the sustainability-driven demands of consumers, who are much more aware of specific initiatives and claims (such as compostable packaging, for example) today than they were only two years ago. The food industry, she adds, must be the gatekeeper and overall educator to consumers, because, contrary to the belief of some, corporations are well ahead of consumers in terms of the adoption and implementation of sustainable initiatives and strategies.

Consumer demand is past the tipping point, she says, and is rolling downhill, carrying companies that have proven themselves to be excellent environmental stewards, with it. Consumers today understand the importance of the product lifecycle and have begun to branch out in their “watchdog” efforts to pick out businesses that offer sustainable products both post-consumption as well as pre-consumption.

They have embraced the “less is more” concept and have proven that sustainability on the whole has a very broad influential reach, based on the above. According to NMI data, 47 percent of consumers believe the recent “environmental buzz” is here to stay, and 20 percent of consumers are completely on the bandwagon with purchasing and consuming green — they are the drivers of sustainability.

Molyneaux says that companies are headed down the right path, in that within the last year, most branding executives have transitioned portions of their message to reach the 80 percent of consumers who are, in NMI’s words, “some shade of green.” These are consumers who have not devoted their entire purchasing power or lives to being as environmentally strong, but do a few things where possible.

Opportunities abound, she says, for any companies who can latch on to the downhill-speeding snowball — and now is the time to get hooked.