At the Sweets & Snacks Expo this month, Julie Robey, customer sustainable leader, food solutions America, Cargill, gave a presentation on transparency in food systems, and why it matters, including how brands can leverage a transparent supply chain in messaging and storytelling.

Candy Industry Senior Editor Liz Parker was recently able to connect with Robey to learn more.

Liz Parker: What does transparency mean to food systems, and why does transparency matter?

Julie Robey: Transparency allows us to advance sustainable initiatives. By building transparent, traceable supply chains, we can set up sustainability programs that build resiliency and support economical, environmental, and socially responsible production. 

It’s also a word that can mean many different things. Physical transparency is often what comes to mind first—the ability to trace a product back to its point of origin. Others associate transparency with specific certifications documenting how a product was sourced or grown. 

Ultimately, transparency is a means to an end. Consumers want to purchase products made with sustainably sourced ingredients. Transparent supply chains let us tell that story.


LP: What are some consumer insights around transparency?

JR: Consumers are concerned about the state of the environment and believe the planet is at a tipping point. With major qualms about climate change and companies’ carbon emissions, interest in packaged goods with sustainability claims has grown steadily over the last decade. One Cargill study has found purchase intent for food and beverages with a sustainability claim jumped 17 percentage points over the last 11 years—clearly suggesting a shift in North American consumer attitudes.

Those findings align with recent data from Innova Market Insights, which revealed half of all U.S. and European consumers say they pay attention to sustainability claims and a third say honesty and transparency are the most important values related to food.

It’s a sea change that’s also reflected in purchase data. Research from the NYU-Stern Center for Sustainable Business reveals the market for sustainable products is dramatically outpacing its conventional counterparts. In 2022, sustainability-marketed CPG products delivered approximately one-third of all growth, despite representing just 17.3% of the overall market. Put another way, sustainability-marketed CPG products grew at roughly twice the rate, achieving a 9.43% five-year CAGR (2017–22) compared to just 4.98% for the rest of the marketplace.


LP: How can brands leverage a transparent supply chain in their messaging and storytelling?

JR: In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s no longer enough to create a great-tasting product. Increasingly, it’s the compelling story that captivates consumers. Shoppers expect companies to provide information and a high degree of honesty about ingredients, including their origin and production processes. 

But these are complex stories that don’t always lend themselves to the limited space available on packaging. Brands are going to need to leverage QR codes and web sites to help consumers understand the supply chain behind their products and use that story to help build brand loyalty. 


LP: Do you have any advice for brands looking to switch to a transparent supply chain?

JR: It’s so complex. You need a supplier like Cargill that can help you understand what consumers are looking for and how supply chains can provide the transparency you require. A good starting point is clearly defining what transparency means to you and your customers. The goal could be a specific package claim, a compelling story on your website, or substantiation for your sustainability report. Defining the goal can help you determine what kind of product you need. 

Ultimately, responsible ingredient sourcing isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for business. Transparent, sustainable supply chains are increasingly becoming a driver for consumers who see their product choices as a reflection of who they are and what they value. Consumers want to see the issues they care about acknowledged and actioned in the brands they buy. 

Related: Cargill, Voyage Foods partner to scale up alternatives to cocoa-based products