Calling all food brands: come and explore what #foodcitizenship means for you

There’s something going on in the food system — something that could change the whole way food brands think and operate, finally giving them space to get beyond the tired, narrow restrictions of current innovation and marketing dogma, and open up a whole range of creative opportunities. We call it “food citizenship”, a shift in the idea of the role of people beyond just consumers to participants in the food system. It’s happening everywhere, across the sector and across the world, and brings with it huge opportunities for brands both to do good and do well.

‘I am PUNK’ — courtesy of

We see a number of food brands already starting to play in this space, if more by accident than design, more despite their structures and language than because of them. Brewdog, the only company to be in the Sunday Times list of the UK’s fastest growing companies for the last 5 years, is an example: the difficulty of their mission to make everyone as passionate about great craft beer as they are is easily underestimated until you remember where beer and pubs were in 2007, when they set out. What has set them apart since? Their clarity of purpose, embrace of rivals and upstarts, openness of mission, and above all their determination to see their customers not just as self-interested consumers but as active participants in their work in the world. There are many other examples brands can learn from — both from other brands (such as COOK zooming in on their purpose to nourish their customers’ relationship with food and each other) and beyond (like Oklahoma City Mayor involving the whole of his city as active participants in a huge and highly successful health drive). We believe there are three shifts that brands should be thinking about:

Table taken from our Food Citizenship report

In the food system as it stands today, the role of brands is simply to sell products: to respond to consumer demand. When we are in the middle of the high volume, low margin business models that most food brands are, this can be extremely hard to break out of. But the prize on offer is big: relationships where people buy into your purpose, instead of just buying products from you, are deeper, longer lasting and ultimately financially rewarding. By acting as convenors within the food system, brands can embody a different way of thinking about people — whether they are customers, producers, staff or even competitors. As convenors brands can bring producers into decision-making processes and the customer experience, and work with all stakeholders to achieve a previously impossible objective together (rather than simply seeking to drive short-term competitive advantage through the tired and tiring strategy of pursuing the next fleeting differentiator, the next new claim that will be copied within weeks).

We don’t know exactly how this is going to manifest itself, but we believe there is a whole new way of doing food marketing in this agenda — involving citizens not just flogging to consumers — that could derive both direct benefit to brands and positive impact far beyond. We are on a mission to define it, share it, and break it out into the world, and we’re looking for six willing organisations to join us on this Collaborative Innovation journey. This is what we do as New Citizenship Project — we figure out the right question, and then we answer it with the organisations who are most up for thinking in a different way.

Who’s in?

Email our programme manager, Iris, for further information —

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