The contemporary turbulent and ambiguous environment means that running a business according to the old rules is no longer effective, and changing market strategies so as to adapt to a dynamic environment is a necessity. The main challenges faced by enterprises are indicated by climate change, increased poverty, an increase in the population and scale of consumption, the degradation of ecosystems, higher global energy demand, the overexploitation of natural resources, and the production of an increasing amount of waste [1
]. The authors emphasize that focusing on short-term activities aimed at immediate gratification by maximizing profits and providing shareholders with financial value can no longer be the rule of success. Lawrence and Weber [4
] emphasize that a business must understand that today’s market and financial success strongly depends on the relationship that the company has with society and the environment, not only with its shareholders. Research conducted by Trojanowski [5
] shows that one of the main barriers to the implementation of sustainable marketing activities by managers is that they are mainly driven by the company’s financial results. Concern for the environment and taking environmental aspects into account in their business operations are of less importance to them. As emphasized by Duicia et al. [6
], there is an urgent need to develop new concepts, approaches, and methods for sustainable development, including tools that are applicable to business. In this context, sustainable development has become one of the concepts of corporate development that has gained global acceptance [7
]. It becomes necessary to redefine the strategy to include marketing activities that are recognized as a link between business engagement and sustainability [8
]. Traditional marketing mix tools are no longer sufficient; hence, the literature emphasizes the need to redefine them, adding to each of them the aspect of sustainability [9
]. It is so important to conduct research on sustainable marketing tools that could be directly implemented by company managers, which, in the long term, will bring benefits both financially and in the pro-social and pro-environmental areas. Research conducted by Agrawal et al. [10
] and Schulz and Flanigan [11
] has shown that integrating sustainability into companies’ strategies enables the achievement of such long-term goals.
In the literature of the field of marketing and management, there are studies on the new conceptualization of marketing tools related to sustainable products [12
], sustainable prices [16
], sustainable distribution [17
], and sustainable promotion [23
]. However, this research is often fragmented, limited to selected tools, or carried out from the customer’s perspective. The reason for the lack of a comprehensive study is that it is a new area of research that requires further study and exploration [27
]. The research conducted under the supervision of E. Rudawska [28
] has made a significant contribution to the development of this area of knowledge. The original concept, of defining each of the tools of a sustainable marketing mix proposed by this research team, was adopted by the author of this study and verified in a diverse socioeconomic environment.
In particular, the impact of the identified challenges is observed in the food and drink sector, and results from the negative effects of the industrialization and globalization of agriculture and food processing, increasing insecurity in food production, and changing the dietary preferences of consumers to more diet-conscious ones (and thus popularizing more processed products). Ultimately, the growing global gap between the rich and the poor determines their eating habits and the food products they purchase [29
]. The research conducted so far in the indicated sector has mainly focused on inequalities in the production of food and beverages [30
] and product innovations [31
], the creation of sustainable supply chains [32
], or customer attitudes towards higher prices [33
]. However, there is little comprehensive research on the complete marketing mix tools. Hence, in this article, it was decided to fill the identified research gap. Included among the tools are sustainable products, sustainable prices, sustainable distribution, sustainable promotion, and sustainable employees—which are considered as one of the most valuable assets of the company, enabling long-term benefits [35
Sustainability has been a subject of consideration in large enterprises for two–three decades [36
]. However, insufficient attention is still paid in particular to research on sustainable marketing in the context of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) [37
]. It should be noted that 99% of enterprises operating in the food and drink sector are considered SMEs [39
]. Few studies conducted among SMEs indicate that sustainability in the structure of enterprises is introduced slowly and is not the key objective of the activity [24
]. Researchers suggest that this situation may be due, on the one hand, to the failure of SMEs to perceive themselves as having a significant negative impact on the environment, resulting in them having a lower sense of responsibility [41
]. On the other hand, the abandonment of implementation may result from insufficient knowledge of managers and tools adjusted to implementation in entities of this size; as Wang [42
] emphasizes, entities of various sizes should adopt different sustainable marketing tools. As a result, the need to explore this area is emphasized to develop tools tailored to SMEs specifically.
When conducting research on sustainable marketing in the global dimension, it is necessary to notice the problems that may arise, both at the level of implementation, and at the level of conceptualization itself, in various parts of the globe. The results of the analyses taking into account various social, cultural and economic factors may yield different results. In developed countries, the concept of sustainable development is seen as a holistic concept that takes into account the relations between the environment, the economy, and society. From the perspective of developing countries in Asia, it can be perceived as an attempt to impose the dominance of Western thinking in order to modernize the region. Among Asian enterprises, some of them are still heavily under state control, which makes it difficult to implement flexible changes and widens the gap between the rich and poor [43
Taking into account the current literature and the research carried out so far, it should be noted that the discussed topic is very current, under development, and not yet sufficiently researched. Considering this, the main above-mentioned goal of the article is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the scope of implementing sustainable marketing in SMEs of the food and drink industry in socioeconomically diverse markets of Poland (as an example of a developed country) and Sri Lanka (as an example of a developing country).
An exploratory factor analysis with varimax rotation indicated that, among SMEs from Sri Lanka, only one construct (a sustainable product) has a multidimensional character. The remaining tools are unidimensional. Factor analyses among Polish SMEs revealed a multi-dimensional nature also in relation to the construct of sustainable employees (according to the rule of value > 1). The eigenvalues and percentages of explained variance are shown in Table 3
In the case of the sustainable products construct, the two factors describing it were obtained for the two analyzed groups of companies (Table 4
). Significant factors are shown in bold in Table 4
. Among the companies operating in Sri Lanka, two factors account for over 51 percent of the total variance explained by the initial set of 12 variables. The first factor concerns activities related to focusing on clear marketing activities and credible communication in advertising, which does not lead to the misconception that the products are eco-friendly. This factor is called clear marketing and advertising communication
. The second factor that defines a sustainable product relates to the use of certificates confirming commitment to social and environmental issues, and the implementation of environmental management standards in enterprises. This factor is called certification and standardization
. Among Polish companies, a sustainable product is also explained by two factors that explain more than 56 percent of the overall variance. The first factor concerns offering high-quality products while eliminating the use of chemical substances and reducing the negative impact on the natural environment, as well as the use of environmentally friendly packaging and clear marketing and advertising communication. This factor is called responsible offer
. The second factor identified is the same as that identified among the Sri Lankan SMEs—certification and standardization
Taking into account the second researched construct—sustainable prices—it was noted that in both analyzed markets, it is characterized by one-dimensionality (see Table 5
). Among the companies from Sri Lanka, the factor explains 46 percent of the variance. This factor concerns the concentration of actions to provide good value for money, and the ethical and honest implementation of price-differentiation actions. This factor was named—honest price–quality ratio
. Among Polish enterprises, the identified factor explains over 52 percent of the total variance. The obtained results show that it is to a large extent defined similarly as among Sri Lankan enterprises. However, Polish managers additionally point to setting higher prices for sustainable products/services. Because the understanding of this factor is very close to the factor identified in the first analyzed market, it was also called the honest price–quality ratio
The factors analyzed for sustainable distribution also include one-dimensional factors for both analyzed groups (see Table 6
). They explain over 48 percent, for the Sri Lankan market, and over 55 percent, for the Polish market, of the total variance. The conceptual idea for both groups is the same. It is defined by cooperation and is based on the principles of ethical and fair trade, the selection of suppliers operating in a pro-social and pro-environmental manner that complies with the company’s principles, signing written cooperation codes, and paying special attention to the impact of logistics processes on the environment. This factor has been named—sustainable suppliers and logistics.
As concerns of the fourth analyzed construct—sustainable communication, the one-dimensional nature of factors was identified for both markets (see Table 7
). A factor analysis showed that these factors explain 50 percent of the variance for Sri Lankan SMEs, and 55 percent of the variance for Polish entities. For Polish enterprises, all seven factors defining the communication tool were considered significant for the concept of the construct. It was, therefore, called sustainable communication with consumers and stakeholders. The idea of sustainable communication conceptualization among Sri Lankan subjects ruled out factors related to the significant role of transparency and honesty in communication and the replacement of traditional forms of communication with digital materials. Nevertheless, this factor, due to the overwhelming similarity to the idea of the conceptualization of Polish enterprises, was also called—sustainable communication with consumers and stakeholders.
Finally, the last analyzed construct was sustainable people (employees). Factor analysis shows that this construct is one-dimensional for the Sri Lankan market and two-dimensional for the Polish market (see Table 8
). For the Sri Lankan market, the identified factor explains 48 percent of the variance. The factors that qualify for the conceptualization of the idea relate to transparency and openness of cooperation, the implementation of the work–life balance program, as well as consulting and involving employees in the strategic planning process. This factor has been called—safe cooperation, balance, and employee engagement
. In the second surveyed group of SMEs, the factors identified explain 62 percent of the variance. The first identified factor concerns the consolidation of attitudes related to environmental responsibility among employees, encouraging them to participate in volunteering, and creating a work–life balance program. This factor has been called—pro-environmental attitude, volunteering, and balance.
The second factor concerns providing employees with a healthy and safe working environment, as well as preferring to employ people from the region. This factor has been named work safety and local recruitment.
The implementation of the concept of sustainable marketing to corporate strategies plays a significant role in the realities of the modern market. The failure to include actions for sustainable development in traditional marketing mix tools makes it necessary to redefine them [9
]. Knowledge of specific activities for each of the marketing mix tools tailored to a specific industry becomes a road map for entities that want to consider not only the economic dimension of running a business, but also those operating with regard to the environment and social responsibility.
Some researchers suggest that, in more developed countries, the level of implementation of sustainable marketing is at a more advanced stage. The conducted research shows that there are many differences and similarities in the conceptualization of the sustainable marketing tools by SMEs in the two analyzed markets. The greatest discrepancies are visible in the conceptualization of a sustainable product and sustainable people, while the smallest relates to sustainable distribution.
The conducted research shows that in sustainable products, external actions, which are directly visible to the consumer, dominate among Sri Lankan SMEs. These include activities related to credible advertising and the possession of certificates. Among Polish SMEs, apart from external activities, a great importance of internal activities was also noted. These activities concern areas that take place during the offer-creation process and mainly concern the elimination of harmful products in the production process, minimizing the negative impact of business on the environment by saving water or energy, and creating environmentally friendly packaging. This may suggest that Polish SMEs are more aware of the need to implement sustainable marketing in their entire offer-preparation process, and in companies’ operations on the market.
Taking such comprehensive actions regarding a sustainable product can often result in higher costs. This was confirmed by the factors identified in sustainable prices for Polish SMEs, which indicate the need to increase prices for sustainable products. This action is in line with the concept of sustainable development advocated by Martin and Schouten [16
] and Peattie and Belz [26
], which emphasizes that sustainable prices should take a full account of production and marketing costs, not only economically, but also in environmental and social terms, ensuring mutual benefits for the consumer and the producer. One might suppose that among Sri Lankan SMEs sustainable prices do not take into account all these costs, and the adopted system makes it difficult to estimate social and environmental costs. Higher prices are indicated by many researchers as a barrier to the implementation of sustainable marketing. In accepting the price level, it may be helpful to target the offer of sustainable products to socially and ecologically sensitive market segments for which the condition of the environment and social problems are important [83
]. In the food and drink sector, as will be emphasized by Willer and Kilcher [34
], the acceptance of a higher price by consumers is possible for products that are produced by a farming method that supports a healthy agroecosystem and that does not use environmentally harmful agrochemicals.
The idea of conceptualizing sustainable distribution is the same for both analyzed markets. The results of the research show that both for the Sri Lankan and the Polish market, the selection of the right suppliers and partners is of great importance, as well as the implementation of this cooperation based on ethical and fair-trade behavior. A second key area includes logistics processes that enable the reduction of negative effects on the environment, e.g., carbon footprint. This result may be due to the fact that, in the research related to sustainability in enterprises conducted so far, the greatest attention has been focused on practices in distribution channels [84
]. This area is one of the first undertaken by enterprises, and thus, the implementation of sustainability in this area is advanced and has well-established practices.
As indicated above, educating customers in disseminating the concept of sustainable development is significant; it should take place through companies communicating with the market. The results of the study indicate that in both analyzed markets, the conceptualization of sustainable marketing communication is a concept encompassing numerous activities that are largely focused on promoting the attitudes of sustainable consumption. The activities undertaken by SMEs are similar to a large extent, but the role of transparency and honesty in communication is emphasized in the Polish market. These activities seem to be consistent with the position of Peattie [36
], who points out that effective sustainable promotion activities are not only a matter of creating positive information emphasizing the eco-features of the offer, but also of involving enterprises in a multilateral dialogue regarding business and the environment, creating trustworthy relations. According to Fuller [88
], the activities of sustainable communication should concern, on the one hand, education and building consumer sensitivity in the field of environmental protection, and on the other hand, creating and maintaining the environmental credibility of both products and the entire company. Polish SMEs emphasize the role of searching for new forms of communication involving digitization in sustainable promotion. The significant role of this measure may result from both the willingness to reduce the costs of a sustainable offer and the fact of the increased digitization of European society [89
], and is, thus, a better adjustment of this form to the recipients.
The conceptualization of the last marketing tool—sustainable employees (people)—indicates a significant differentiation of ideas in the analyzed markets. One of the activities linking both markets is the implementation of programs for employees, e.g., work–life balance, which helps to ensure a balance between work and private life. In the Sri Lankan market, activities related to sustainable employees are focused on engaging them in the company’s activities and ensuring their safety and respect. On the Polish market, the activities carried out in education and shaping pro-environmental and pro-social attitudes among employees were considered to be more significant. Moreover, Polish SMEs attach great importance to the development of the region by preferring the employment of people from the region as well as encouraging employees to engage in voluntary work. The obtained results are consistent with the views of Sarkis, Gonzalez-Terre, and Adenco-Diaz [68
]; they argue that sensitivity to both external and internal stakeholder groups can initiate a positive spiral of benefits. Recognition of the interest of the internal group (employees) results in the acquisition of motivated employees who are ready to take on challenges, including those related to the implementation of sustainable marketing to the operationalization of the entire company.
The research area discussed in the article is still an unexploited research topic. The analysis of the literature and empirical research indicate the need for further research in the area of sustainable economy, including, in particular, sustainable marketing, which is sometimes considered [8
] as a link between enterprises’ commitment to sustainability. This paper provides its main contributions to the sustainable marketing literature in several ways. First, it is research that conceptualizes and operationalizes the idea of sustainable marketing tools (5P) in the food and drink industry for the first time, taking into account the specificity of a given country. Secondly, it allows for the adjustment of sustainable marketing activities for small and medium-sized enterprises, unlike what has, so far, often been the case only for large entities [27
]. Thirdly, it highlights the differences and similarities, as SMEs from other culturally and economically developed countries define the implementation of sustainability in each of the analyzed marketing mix tools.
The obtained results of the presented study may have many practical applications, as they indicate 39 specific actions that SMEs may take in order to implement sustainable development in their corporate strategies. The benefits obtained from carrying out sustainable activities, but also intensified regulations and the necessity to apply them, make the change of corporate strategy towards sustainable marketing seem inevitable. The concept presented in this article enables a comprehensive understanding of the possibilities of implementing sustainable marketing in the food and drink sector. A ready tool can be a valuable tip, causing the intensification of activities carried out in this area. After all, knowledge about the similarities and differences in the conceptualization of individual tools of sustainable marketing in different countries can be valuable information when undertaking cooperation with entities from countries with different cultures and levels of economic and technological development. The conducted research shows, however, that less-developed countries do not deviate from the implementation of marketing based on the environment, economy, and social care aspects. The conclusion from the research is that Sri Lankan SMEs are more focused on the implementation of external actions, while in the Polish market, more activities are also undertaken within the organization. This may indicate that the implementation of the concept of sustainability in the Sri Lankan market is still at an early stage. The attempt to conceptualize and operationalize the tools of the sustainable marketing mix in culturally and economically diverse countries shows that, despite the existence of certain differences, the proposed set of 39 actions may be a widely used tool for the food and drink industry.
The conducted research also has its limitations, which also set the directions for future research. Firstly, the study was conducted in two specific countries, which may give results characteristic only for the countries studied, and not for all countries with similar socioeconomic factors. Therefore, a worthwhile research direction would be to extend the analysis to new countries. Secondly, the delimitation of the study to the food and drink sector, on the one hand, made it possible to identify the characteristics of this type of SME; however, the proposed conceptualization may not be correct for entities operating in other sectors of the economy. Hence, in further research directions, it is worth verifying the proposed concept of sustainable marketing tools in other industries. Moreover, the conducted study used cross-sectional data, which makes it difficult to observe the results and verify changes taking place in the companies. An interesting study would be to conduct a longitudinal study that would allow for observing changes in the implementation of sustainable marketing activities taking place in individual markets.