CHICAGO — Growing a business is challenging in the best of times. Now a year into a prolonged pandemic and an economic downturn, even the most sophisticated business leaders struggle to figure out how to market in turbulent waters.

For commercial bakeries, especially those that are not consumer-facing, it’s even more challenging. Consumers are peeling back the layers of the industry to learn everything they can about the businesses they buy from — directly or indirectly — which creates a need for values-based marketing.

More and more consumers want to buy from businesses that support the way they think. This includes supporting products and companies that stand for the same things they do; for some consumers, that means buying from those sellers who demonstrate a willingness to stand up against social injustice and political divisiveness or who otherwise align with consumers’ own values and priorities.


For many companies, this new environment may provide a defining opportunity to lean into the challenges of 2021 by showing courage and offering hope to their customers. 2020 brought not only a global pandemic but also a year of social and political unrest. There is no better time for commercial bakeries to lead with purpose and show that you don’t just sell or make something — you stand for something.

But this can seem counterintuitive to the way many companies have typically run their business. Before 2020, it may not have been necessary to market or advertise extensively, let alone speak publicly about the business’ values. Historically, most commercial bakeries have operated in an environment where they sold to customers based purely on their products’ benefits, not on their businesses’ values. With a few exceptions, most baking businesses have kept social issues out of their marketing.

And that traditional view of marketing may make this an uncomfortable time for developing a values-based platform. The idea of not only marketing when you’ve never really had to — let alone adopting values-based strategies — can be scary. There are pros and cons, of course. On one hand, it can build trust and loyalty while increasing sales, but it can also risk alienating customers or prospects whose values don’t align with a brand’s messaging.

In the commercial baking industry, values-based marketing is a relatively new concept, especially for those companies that have had minimal marketing strategies at all, not to mention tacking their values onto the benefits of their brand.

There is no better time for commercial bakeries to lead with purpose and show that you don’t just sell or make something — you stand for something.


But isn’t values-based marketing just a “millennial thing”? Not necessarily. Values-based marketing is an appeal to a customer’s or consumer’s ideals and ethics. It shifts marketing from product-centric to customer-centric. This type of marketing is often seen as a “millennial thing” because these consumers make up the first generation to require businesses to stand for something. The generation that grew up with the internet providing untethered access to products and information — not to mention real-time social media — may be the most vocal in their demands. But it’s not just about millennials. Today’s modern shoppers not only want to know who supplies their favorite brands, but they also care about a company’s values in addition to the quality of its products.

For those companies that can define and communicate what they stand for, values-based marketing can be a very effective way to build a deeper connection with consumers and stay top-of-mind to create lifelong loyalty. It can also create a way for people to support the brands that sell or use your products.

Shying away from a values-led approach might be easier, and maybe even less risky, but that approach may not resonate with some consumers much longer. Today, any business, no matter what it makes or who it sells to, should evaluate whether its consumers expect it to back societal issues and whether those consumers want the company to showcase its beliefs through targeted marketing. It’s no longer a “maybe we’ll do something someday” scenario; it’s become table stakes.

In 2021 and beyond, as you consider not just general marketing strategies but also those that are values-based, think through all the pros and cons, just as you would do for business continuity or crisis planning.

Work through the policies around the values you stand behind, and ask some very important questions: What are your company’s core values? Do they resonate with your consumers? What kind of backlash might there be if you promote them? Who will the activists, trolls and sophisticated bad actors be? What will they say, and where will they say it? Where do you need to be aware of your risks? Have other commercial bakeries taken this approach, and what have they had to deal with? How have some of the brands you admire dealt with this, and what have they done well … and not so well? How will you moderate the responses? Are you prepared for what could be disruptive, atypical risks? And of course, what benefits or brand loyalty might you cultivate?


Whether or not you decide to market your brand broadly in 2021, values-based marketing offers a challenging new frontier, especially online with social media users who may be ready to sow discord — sometimes just for the fun of it — or who just might spread the word about the good work you do.

By being the purveyor of your own messaging, you control the narrative. You can decide if values-based marketing makes sense for your company and your products.

And, as you consider the benefits and risks by thinking carefully about your marketing strategies, you’ll be prepared if and when someone decides they’re unhappy with the supplier their favorite brand uses to source its sourdough starter.

Have You Read