18 Dec 2016

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In 2015 a large FMCG company was publicly attacked by a European Environment Minister for its use of palm oil in a product. The politician’s comments led to a swift statement from Greenpeace condemning many FMCG companies for unsustainable palm oil practices. We followed the situation closely at Social360, and noted further interesting developments online.

Palm oil and sustainability issues have proven to be a challenging area for FMCG businesses, and suddenly there was an identifiable increase in discussion - by traditional media sources and social media alike – with palm oil top of the agenda for charities, activist groups and campaigners. We followed the topic over a three-month period to see how it progressed, identify key activity and influencers, and track reports of the unexpected levels of attention.

Greenpeace continued its campaign, while Rainforest Action and the World Wildlife Fund weighed in on the action, indicating that the issue had evolved from its European focus to global engagement. Orangutan Foundation International Australia waded into the controversy, accusing FMCGs of the destruction of critical orangutan habitat and the negative consequences for orangutans and other wildlife.

The debate surrounding palm oil had escalated into accusations of unsustainable palm oil usage directed at multiple leading FMCG brands. Companies such as Kraft and Nestle came under fire for their use of the product, from media sources and both high and low profile social media users.

Regionally focused coverage of the “trans-Alpine tiff” in Europe, and the original comments by the politician quickly transformed into international news and discussion. A Canadian news source picked up the story and Reddit users discussed the issue on the forum. One charity, Rainforest Trust was motivate to launch #skiptosave, encouraging people to skip everyday purchases in order to donate money to stop rainforest deforestation, of which palm oil cultivation is a leading contributor.

By analysing the thousands of related mentions, we discovered a pattern in the way the issue escalated:

    • Individual users were first to comment before traditional news sources picked it up, such as the Wall Street Journal.
    • The story gained international traction, with news sources covering the story in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands two days after the politician’s comments.
    • Individual users were commenting on the issue even further afield in Dubai and Columbia, before news sources outside of Europe then became aware of the situation.

The huge increase of related online mentions during this period was overwhelming. Given that the debate surrounding palm oil had global reach, it would be challenging for companies to cut through the noise themselves without getting sidetracked or distracted by unimportant reactions to the issue. With our analysis and identification of key topics and influencers, Social360 helps FMCG teams prioritise and focus efforts on developing positioning and an appropriate communications response.

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