Do they, or don’t they care? That is a question we are increasingly asked by companies when it comes to understanding whether or not consumers care about brands’ sustainability credentials and if they are willing to pay more for ethically produced goods. The reality is, there is no one right answer to this.
As is always the case when we talk about consumers, no two are completely alike and what one considers as a key sustainability issue, another may not even have on their list of concerns. Packaging is however, the number one issue on consumers’ minds when it comes to food and drink.
Our latest Tracking Survey highlighted packaging as the area they felt that food and drink manufacturers should be prioritising their efforts when it comes to environmental steps to focus on.
We know from previous studies that UK consumers feel it is the responsibility of manufacturers and retailers rather than themselves to make strides in this area, however it is interesting to see that over 45% are now being proactive themselves and actively looking to reduce food waste as a way towards helping tackle environmental damage.
There are certain categories where consumers’ concerns around packaging are already leading to changes in behaviours. For instance, our research found that 32% actively avoid buying bottled water. The publicity around single use plastics and the ‘Blue Planet Effect’ has resulted in consumers actively switching to tap water. However, safety still trumps the environment as they continue to buy more wrapped fruit and veg than they did in pre Covid-19 times.
Taking two completely different categories eg water and red meat, we can see very different environmental concerns come into focus. This is where companies need to think about the greatest impact their category has on the environment and focus on innovative solutions to address these. Red meat will need to be packaged in recyclable materials for sure, but its greatest challenge will be to address all the negative publicity around the environmental impact of methane gases from cows.
Companies looking to become more environmentally friendly, should not assume that consumers will rush to reward them for their efforts. However, over time it is increasingly likely that those companies focused on sustainable brands and products will see value added to the bottom line. Unilever’s Sustainable Living brands are testament to this – growing 69% faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75% of the company’s growth.
Growth will only come if businesses truly understand what the consumers of their category are looking for when it comes to sustainability. When consumer needs are understood, these same businesses need to recognise that it will take a nudge strategy and marketing campaigns focussed on emotional storytelling rather than lots of facts to get consumers to move from thoughts and feelings to actual behaviours in favour of the environment. Led with emotions, they will generally override rational thoughts.