A month ago, I was training a group of Foodservice DSR’s and the subject of selling green products was raised. The question was, “How can we sell green products to our customers who don’t want to pay the extra money?” The best way to answer this question is by first understanding that there are different types of green buyers. At a trade show, I met the following:
#1 The Environmentalist Buyer was from Vermont and was totally into the green movement. He said, “I don’t care what it costs. I will buy green products because I will do whatever it takes to help the environment.” These buyers most likely have a compost pile at their facility or in their town. You will need some extra education to sell this customer. For example, you’ll need to know the difference between recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable products.
Recyclable: Recyclable products can be collected and reprocessed to produce new items. Common recyclable materials are paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum, and electronic waste. Recycling is very important in diverting waste from landfills.*
Biodegradable: When a product is biodegradable, it simply means that a product will break down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass within a reasonable amount of time in the natural environment. However, the term “biodegradable” has no legal enforcement or definition, so the term has been used loosely by some manufacturers.*
Compostable: Compostable products are biodegradable, but with an added benefit: when they break down, they release valuable nutrients into the soil, aiding the growth of trees and plants. These products degrade within several months in an industrial composting facility and produce no toxic residues.*
#2 The Curious Buyer was a nun who came up to the booth asking about green bowls. I asked her what she used the bowls for. She said, “The sisters use them when we have ice cream.” I asked, “What do you do when you are finished with the bowls?” She answered, “We throw them in the trash.” I asked, “Where do the bowls go after you throw them away?” She answered, “They are taken to the landfill.” I asked, “Do you know what happens to them after they go to the landfill?” “They decompose?” she questioned. I said, “No. Nothing will happen to them for the next 500 years, because in a landfill nothing decomposes.” “Really?” she asked. It is true, let me explain further.
Here is what happens in a landfill:
There are three things needed for decomposition of green products: air, light, and water. When products are put into a landfill and buried, they get little if any of the three. Essentially, the products are entombed. So, products you put into landfills may not decompose for thousands of years. People have found newspapers that are readable after 40 years, ten-year-old carrots that are brown on the outside and bright orange on the inside, and 20-year-old steaks with meat still on the bones when they dug up old landfills.
“So, you see, Sister, you aren’t ‘saving’ the environment at all by buying green bowls.” The Sister looked relieved and thanked me. She was justifying paying $80 for a case of bowls because she thought she was saving the environment. If she is going to buy disposable bowls, she can buy foam and save $50-$60 per case without the guilt. The second type of buyer needs to be educated in green products and sold the best solution for them.
#3 The Marketing Buyer was a person who came to the booth and said, “I am opening a gluten-free café and need green products.” I said, “You are correct.” He needed them because his customers demanded them—they were needed for marketing purposes. For this customer to say, “I want green products, but don’t want to pay the extra price,” is delusional. It would be like servicing an owner of a vegan café, who didn’t want to pay extra for veggie burgers. Of course, the buyer will pay more, but it is necessary for them to attract the customers that will allow their business to be successful. It is a marketing cost that they need to factor into the price of food and drinks.
If you understand what type of green buyer you are dealing with and educate yourself on the products and issues regarding green products, it will be much easier to offer the proper solutions and justify the extra cost required to go green. You will be viewed as a valuable resource by your customers and co-workers. You will become the “green go-to person,” and your knowledge will be the differentiating point between you and the competition.
*Definitions according to http://www.thegreenoffice.com