Image via WikipediaDon't bother mentioning "sustainability" or "carbon footprint" to the average American consumer - they won't know what you're talking about.
Kiwi companies looking to sell their wares in the US are being told to tone down the clean green headlines and instead push issues of quality, local craftsmanship and community responsibility.
Research conducted by the Seattle-based Hartman Group for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise shows Americans have only an "entry level" understanding of sustainability, and are not familiar with terms such as "food miles" or "traceability".
Hartman asked four focus groups - two in Washington DC and two in Seattle - plus retailers such as supermarket chain Safeway and natural products seller Whole Foods Market about their attitudes towards sustainability and New Zealand.
Senior director Kirk Cornell said apart from a hard core of eco-aware consumers, most people did not equate sustainability with concern for the planet.
"If you talk to them at length they will arrive at the point where it has something to do with green.
But, top of mind, there's no immediate linkage with anything environmental."
This was the same across all income levels, he said. Instead, America was undergoing a "quality revolution", with consumers harking back to what they saw as simpler, pure times when Grandma did her own pickling. In the case of food, they equated quality with products that were fresh and produced by smaller, local companies using organic and animal-friendly processes.
Bad food was mass-produced and contained elements perceived as harmful, such as genetically modified ingredients and high-fructose corn syrup.
The good news for New Zealand was the characteristics of quality were almost the same as those of clean and green.
"Fresh is an uber-symbol of quality and sustainability," the research said.
The other good news was that Americans had a "quasi-mythological" view of New Zealand, Cornell said.
Their image was limited to what they had seen on the Discovery Channel or in movies such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but even these fragmentary glimpses were overwhelmingly positive, he said.
New Zealand was seen as a kind of pre-modern economy in which organic food was the norm, everyone recycled, there was no over-exploitation of resources and little foreign ownership. "You really couldn't ask for a better image."
While Americans did not spend time thinking about where their products came from they did care that they weren't made in China or other mass-producing Asian nations.
That a product came from New Zealand could be used as a positive. "The notion of locale, of a product being from somewhere that's uniquely suited for making such products, plays very powerfully for the US consumer," the Hartman Group report said.
This is something for us to think about - don't get full of our own importances or force our standards overseas -when in Rome do what the Romans do. Do our homework first!