While consumers say they want one thing, they often do another, and it’s important to understand what consumers want, why they aren’t purchasing what they want and what companies can do to bridge that gap, agreed Christopher Ratto, manager of corporate social responsibility and sustainability for Safeway, Inc., and Linda Gilbert, chief executive officer of EcoFocus Worldwide, at last week’s FMI and GMA Global Sustainability Summit in Seattle, Wash.
In a survey of more than 9,300 shoppers ages 18-65 at more than 33 retail chains across the country, EcoFocus Worldwide found that consumers are largely interested in environmental responsibility and in making green choices, but finding those products and retailers that align with their lifestyles and values is more challenging than they’d like. For this reason, what shoppers say is important varies from what they actually do since these types of products are not necessarily what they’re putting in their shopping carts, Gilbert said.
“What we’re trying to understand is partly from the consumer’s point of view, who are the grocery stores that are doing a better job at being eco-friendly in their minds?” Gilbert explained, adding that some of the measure they use in terms of how eco-friendly a retailer or CPG company is, or how sustainable they are, aren’t necessarily the standards that these companies tend to look at as an industry.
At the top of the list, being a good neighbor in the community is a very strong sustainability measure for consumers, as are health and safety issues when it comes to families and waste reduction. While it sounds fairly straightforward, more and more consumers are looking to food retailers to make it easier for them to make eco-friendly choices, the survey found. In fact, 50% of those surveyed said they want it to be made easy, a 3% increase from 2010, and 46% said it is difficult to figure out what choices to make in order to lead an eco-friendly lifestyle, up 7% from 2010.
“You’d think that with all of the activity and after all of the conversation, that they would be telling us that it is getting easier, but instead, they’re telling us it’s getting harder,” Gilbert said. “They want to make the right choice, but they don’t want to have to do the homework. They really do look at retailers and manufacturers as being the people who need to do that homework and communicate to them what is the choice that they should be making given their different priorities. Not only do they think that it takes too much time, but that it is confusing.”
Consumers don’t know if it’s better to buy a can of soup, a box of soup, a pouch of soup or a jar of soup, Gilbert said, adding that this is the kind of information they are looking for. And while consumers said they wish they could buy environmentally friendly products more often, 72% said they’re not portable and 55% said they’re not available.
“That [partly] means that they have a hard time identifying and sorting out the products on the shelf in order to determine what is going to be the most eco-friendly choice available,” Gilbert said. “Again, up 7 points from 2010, so obviously, we’re not doing a very good job in helping to guide consumers to the eco-friendly choices that are going to fit their lifestyles.”
When it comes to messaging and choosing where to shop, consumers have affordability, trust and easy choices at the top of their lists.
“Helpful information regarding recycling and other ecofriendly practices is also something that we’re seeing being very, very important to consumers and shoppers today,” Gilbert said. “Social responsibility and selection of organic products is actually important, but really down at the bottom of the list versus a lot of these other things that are going on for shoppers today.”
Gilbert went on to highlight three trends she is seeing with shoppers today, and asked retailers and CPG companies to think about what they can do translate these trends into sales dollars.
#1. Eco-friendly lifestyle trend: “Essentially, what we’re finding is that consumers are basically coming to the conclusion that a healthier planet means a healthier me, and so they’re really looking for that connection between health and sustainability,” Gilbert said. “And when we can kind of bring products to that intersection, it’s at that intersection where consumers really see greater value and that they can really make more of a difference.”
- 75% of Americans surveyed said that better personal health is a big benefit of an eco-friendly lifestyle, up 3% from 2010.
- 64% said they have changed what they buy in order to reduce the number of chemicals they are exposed to in their homes. This includes everything from cleaning products to foods and beverages to the types of linens and carpeting, and the low/no VOC paints.
“How can you recognize that connection between personal health and the environment to help shoppers make eco-healthy lifestyle choices?” Gilbert asked of the group. “They’re clearly telling us that this is on their radar screen and their agenda now, but they’re finding it difficult to find those products and make those choices, even though they are on the shelves in the stores.”
#2. Eco-aware parenting trend: “When we talk to parents today, eco-friendly values are now becoming a part of what defines becoming a good parent,” Gilbert said, adding that it’s not just about the moms anymore.
Eco-aware moms and eco-aware dads play different roles when it comes to sustainability, the survey found. “For moms it’s about teaching respect and responsibility and for dads, it’s about teaching about the economy and conservation,” Gilbert explained. “Both very active, both very engaged, but engaged in different ways. So, how can you engage families and how can you create teachable moments for parents and their children around this idea of eco-friendly lifestyles?”
#3. Waste reduction trend: Consumers want to know what companies are doing to help them reduce waste in their homes, with 67% of respondents saying it’s very extremely important, up 6% from 2010, and 59% saying they want to choose foods and beverages that are packaged responsibly.
“How can you help them with that? They’re trying to buy packaging that’s recyclable — how can you help them find that? How can you help them understand in your municipality what can and can’t be recycled?” Gilbert asked. “A lot of consumers don’t even know that glass can be recycled, they’re just not sure. How can you get that message out?”
Some consumers, 42%, said they changed what they buy due to the type of packaging, as well, indicating that packaging is a “very visible solution for consumers with respect to making eco-friendly choices,” Gilbert said.