Sustainability: consumers and companies bring different perspectives

Consumers have good intentions regarding sustainability. They are concerned about the environmental consequences of their behaviors, say they prefer products that are sustainable and friendly to the planet, and care a lot about waste and pollution. “Clean” and “natural” products appeal to consumers as being better for the environment.

Consumer groups differ from each other in several sustainability-related areas. According to research conducted by Innova, young adult Gen Z shoppers are concerned about sustainability of the planet in the products they buy, Millennials expect companies to take the lead in sustainability actions such as reducing deforestation and supporting animal welfare, Gen X consumers prioritize food waste and pollution, and Baby Boomers care about local products and reducing food miles. Consumers in developing countries are more concerned than are consumers in the US or Europe about the social and environmental impact of what they buy or do. Furthermore, one in five consumers surveyed in the US, the highest proportion of any country, is unconcerned or very unconcerned about environmental impact of their purchases. For many individuals, the price has to be right in order them to purchase for sustainability.

Companies use claims on food and beverage packages as a key vehicle to communicate their commitment to sustainability. The majority of claims pertain to the packaging itself, with language such as recyclable packaging, biodegradable, compostable, environment friendly packaging, and minimizing waste. Some companies call out the absence of undesirable compounds such as Bisphenol A and phthalates. Not surprisingly, a high proportion of soft drinks display a packaging recyclability claim. Claims regarding protection of the environment, population and workforce; animals in the food supply; and sustainability itself are far less common.

The small percentage of products with a direct sustainability claim tend to also carry claims pertaining to packaging, the environment, and human welfare. Some products feature multiple types of claims, for example, “Soil Association Organic. Certified B Corporation. Fairtrade certified Fair for Life. Fair wild. Ethically sourced. FSC certified. Recyclable packaging. 1% for the planet. This box uses vegetable based inks on sustainable sourced. Blended and packed using renewable energy” on Pukka tea. Products with a sustainability positioning also are more likely to carry “clean” claims, particularly “no additives and preservatives.” Other common claims include GMO free, vegetarian, and vegan.

Innova’s top trend for 2020, Storytelling: Winning with Words, demonstrates the power of sharing stories to cultivate strong connections with consumers. Companies can use narratives about sustainability efforts to inform and educate consumers, build relationships, and foster brand and company loyalty.

“Sustainability: Future of the Food Supply” is a new Trends Insider report from Innova Market Insights, which brings together consumer research, market sizes, company analysis and a review of new product trends and activity to demonstrate just how the picture has been changing and to suggest where the future opportunities can be found.

Share article