Globally the signs are clear: consumers say they are concerned about sustainability and the long-term health of the planet. And they are beginning to actually manifest shopper choices that suggest they mean it and expect brands to take responsibility. And brands are investing in all aspects of sustainable product development and go to market strategies. But a Harvard Business Review article, from 2019 details the conundrum of “the Elusive Green Consumer” – well-meaning shoppers who don’t make sustainable choices, often because they are simply not easy.
How can we help move consumer intention to shopper behavior, when it comes to the fast-paced environment of FMCG goods?
The article reports a cautionary statistic, “… a frustrating paradox remains at the heart of green business: Few consumers who report positive attitudes toward eco-friendly products and services follow through with their wallets. In one recent survey, 65% said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, yet only about 26% actually do so.”
Claimed Versus Actual Behavior
In our own research, we see that shoppers claim they want to do good, but if we look purely at the behavior in context, in our studies we observe that shoppers are often not ready to compromise on core drivers that are more visceral. Our studies for clients reveal discrepancies that lead even the most environmentally committed consumers to make unsustainable choices at that check-out line.
But there are areas for brands to consider that can help them realize competitive advantage by making sustainability (and their products) the easy choice:
1. Packaging Design:
- Packaging still needs to be attractive to shoppers at the shelf or on the e-commerce grid. We know materials that are spontaneously attractive to shoppers are not always the ones that are good from a sustainability perspective. Our experience confirms that changes affecting the looks of the pack at the shelf can also affect sales. It is therefore of the highest importance to test packs especially in-context, in order to find solutions that are at the same time sustainable AND effective when it comes to influencing consumer choice.
2. Changing Codes:
- The visual cues that transmit “sustainability” are constantly changing, even as awareness regarding packaging, sustainability is increasing among consumers. Symbols meant to convey certain elements of sustainability differ from region to region and even within a region are somewhat inscrutable. Don’t make assumptions based on consumer understanding that is outdated. Test if your pack is sending the right message and that the sustainability message is getting through.
3. Consumers are Genuinely Confused:
- In addition to confusing symbols, sustainability across the lifecycle of a product is not easily understood. Consumers have to make judgments about excessive packaging (a tube in a box), plastic packaging that may be difficult to dispose of after the product is used (where and how can I recycle it), packaging created from recycled material, or packaging that can be reused and product replenished. What we know is that when faced with a decision that requires too much cognitive System 2 analysis, consumers will default to their simpler, familiar choices. Does your packaging convey the specifics around sustainability that facilitate intuitive purchases in the fast-paced omnichannel shopper world?
4. Core Product Drivers:
- In considering favored brand choices, familiar characteristics (e.g. taste appeal, product enjoyment) are still the key elements consumers focus on when shopping and purchasing. Packaging must do double duty conveying not only the sustainability message but also the credibility of these important components of the brand promise.
5. Convenience, Safety, and Stability:
- Handling, shipment, ease of opening and storage become part of the consideration set when consumers evaluate a product choice. Especially in Europe, consumers are considering the impact of weight on shipping: glass bottles may be a more recyclable material, but they impact the carbon footprint by being much heavier to ship, and more prone to breakage.
Behavioral science teaches us that we have many Drivers of Influence on consumer choice. Evaluating products and how they manifest in the shopper experience through a behavioral frame in-context can help brands meet consumer expectations for sustainability and realize the return commensurate to their investment. At PRS IN VIVO, our research on sustainable packaging focuses on these key areas to guarantee better business outcomes for brands.