Authenticity key in an increasingly ‘woke’ society

Antony Begley

I’ll admit that the first time I read the word ‘woke’ in what looked like an out-of-context scenario I had to go and Google it to find out what it meant.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, ‘woke’ is actually a “a political term of African-American origin referring to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice”. The word has now been adopted and expanded by the Instagram and Facebook generation to refer to awareness of a broader range of issues including social justice but also extending to things like sustainability, mindfulness and simply caring for our fellow human beings.

Whatever it means, it’s clear that a significant part of today’s society – and in particular the younger generation – is more ‘woke’ than ever, and that has to be a good thing. This trend also has potentially very significant repercussions for local retailers. But how precisely do retailers appeal to the woke generation? In a word, authenticity.

The woke generation has had access to the internet since the day it was born and understands the power of information in a way that older generations perhaps don’t. They know that Google makes it increasingly difficult for brands to hide the skeletons in their closet. The sweat shops in the Far East. The non-recycled and non-recyclable packaging. The behind-the-scenes financial support for loathsome politicians. That sort of thing.

And this is where authenticity and transparency comes in and not just for brands but for retailers too. Today’s younger shoppers expect brands (and retailers) to have a woke approach to business and they expect those brands and retailers to live by that approach. Possibility the worst thing a brand or retailer can do is shout about their principles and corporate social responsibility policies – and then get caught not living those principles.

All of this occurred to me as I wandered round the recent Scotland’s Speciality Food Show talking to dozens of very small producers and hearing their occasionally heart-wrenching but invariably inspiring stories. The one thing the vast majority had in common was a contagious passion for what they are doing and an openness that you rarely find in the world of big brands where the human element has been almost entirely purged. These companies and products have character and, being mostly handmade, they also have real quality. The point? Stocking Scottish, regionally and locally-produced products is one great way of engaging with a woke society. Small producers making small-batch products with love and passion, a great backstory to tell and more often than not with impeccable sustainability credentials too. And by stocking local products, food miles are decimated into the bargain.

What better way to become a destination store in your area?

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Antony Begley, Publishing Director