Updated: Nov 13, 2019
Understandably there is a lot of pressure on food producers, brand manufacturers and retailers to ‘up’ their sustainability credentials. Whether that means changes to the pack, product, range or in-store equipment clearly depends on the category, brand, retailer – or even the latest global warming headline.
It’s arguable that the food and drink categories have been dealing with this pressure for some time, which goes a good way to explain why they appear the most reactive of the categories we talked to shoppers about. Indeed, UK shoppers are significantly more likely to have seen labels relating to sustainability on food and drink products, compared to household or fashion products. And that was both in terms of the products, but also in terms of the actual packaging itself (Fig 1).
Whilst the fashion industry has had its share of pressure to address negative production practices, it is only now that shoppers are starting to weigh up the real cost of fast and disposable fashion, and there is clearly plenty of room for clothing to improve. Recent news from Zara and H&M suggests the fashion sector is now starting to take action but taking a leaf out of the food & drink category pages could speed up the response by the fashion industry.
The challenge for industry, however, is not just to make changes whilst still making profits, but also to identify the changes which will be most beneficial in sustainability terms. There are all manner of options to consider, with protagonists vying to have their cause taken up by as many companies as possible. And for those protagonists, being seen or heard in a meaningful manner is also a challenge. If shoppers / consumers are struggling with the complexity of behaving sustainably, it is just as difficult for manufacturers, retailers and protagonists alike.
As Fig 2 demonstrates, there are a wide range of potential labels a company can look to align with in order to demonstrate their sustainability or environmentally friendly features. Some of these you’ll be well aware of, as the likes of Fairtrade and Organic have been around for years. And some, such as Farm Assured (the red tractor logo!) have been very successful in raising their awareness over the last decade – visibility up from 32% to 52%. But awareness does not automatically lead to action, as only 22% of shoppers actively look for the red tractor when shopping.
Sustainability is such a huge issue. As shoppers and consumers, we have to take on board the impact that our habits are having on our planet, and as we've seen in our previous blogs, UK shoppers / consumers are recognising that. The difficulty is how we match our desire for change, with actual changes in our behaviour.
We are fortunate to live in a world of almost unlimited choice, so the ‘right’ products are out there... somewhere. Unfortunately, unlimited choice is a double-edged sword. Being able to work out the right options, even being able to see those options in the first place is a huge ask, and businesses need to do more to help shoppers out.