Certification Programs: Are they worth it?


certification programs

Myriad food certification programs have burst on the CPG scene in recent years. As a result, certification claims on packaging have become a mushrooming marketing tactic, with some brands displaying every certification mark under the sun.

Certifications apply to facilities, processes, practices, products and ingredients, and are often associated with claims and the absence of something undesirable. Wide-ranging categories include health and lifestyle diets, food safety and quality, packaging, agricultural practices, animal welfare, environmental protection, sustainability, religious practices and social causes. 

Are certifications a worthwhile spend?

It depends. Although some brand owners feel they are a money grab, they bear serious consideration. There are numerous factors to take into account when evaluating ROI. Answering the following questions will provide insights to evaluate whether it’s a prudent investment of time, money and resources or just a nice-to-have.

Who is your target consumer? 

The key, as with all areas of marketing, is understanding what drives your target consumer’s purchase decisions. What certifications are most relevant and meaningful, and how high do they rank on their decision tree?

To gauge consumer buy-in consider whether the certification is based on a medical condition (e.g. celiac disease) or a movement (e.g. plant-based), as opposed to a fad or passing trend, although it may be difficult to predict.

Are your competitors certified?

If certification is common among other brands in the category, especially national brands, it goes without saying that your brand should join in. Otherwise, consumers comparing brands may choose your competitors, all other things being equal.

On the flip side, if your brand happens to be among the first, make certification a differentiator. Shout it from the rooftops to let your customers know, educating them about what it means and how it benefits them.

What is your brand positioning?

If claims are a cornerstone of your brand positioning and point of difference, certification provides evidence to support the claim. 

On the other hand, self-declarations – when brands design their own icons – are misleading and can result in recalls and other negative consequences.

Do your customers require certification? 

Major grocery chains typically have policies and quality standards that make certain certifications a requirement for listings. Whole Foods, for instance, requires third-party verification for non-GMO claims on labels.

Is there a regulatory requirement?

Food safety and quality certifications are a cost of doing business, particularly with today’s global supply chain. Tightening Health Canada and FDA regulations have made food safety certification a necessity. GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) schemes such as BRCGS, SQF, IFS, ISO 22000, to name a few, also set the stage for risk reduction and brand protection, which are critical for building a sustainable business. 

How robust is the program?

To assess the value of a certification examine the requirements. Credible programs typically have operational processes, business management systems and standards that must be met. Compliance is verified through audits conducted by independent third parties. 

If certification is easy to achieve, for example, simply by completing a questionnaire, the benefits are limited.

What are the benefits of certification?

They go far beyond having a logo to paste on packaging. Certifications can differentiate your brand from competitors, attract customers and instill confidence in your products. Implementing and maintaining compliance with certification standards can mitigate business risks and protect your brand. And robust programs create credibility by backing up claims through third-party validation.

Granted, certification requires time, money and resources, but the investment can pay off by safeguarding your business and building trust in your brand.

As CPG food consultants, Birgit Blain and her team get brands ready for retail. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at Birgit@BBandAssoc.com or learn more at www.BBandAssoc.com

© Birgit Blain 2021

This article appeared in Food in Canada magazine.

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.