Retailers

Shoppers Crave Sustainable Solutions

Consumer demand is the driving force behind the eco-friendly packaging movement
eco-minded shopper
Photograph: Shutterstock

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had little impact on consumers’ enthusiasm for sustainable packaging,” according to Chicago-based Trivium Packaging’s 2021 Global Buying Green Report, based on a survey of more than 15,000 consumers in North America, Europe and South America.

Trivium also found that a majority of consumers consider the sustainability of product packaging before making a purchase, and that shoppers are less likely to buy goods packaged with materials they believe are harmful to the environment.

Demand for sustainable packaging is particularly strong among younger consumers. Survey results show that those under age 44 are more willing than older generations to pay extra for sustainable packaging, and that both millennials and Gen Z consumers “put their values into action” when making purchasing decisions.

While U.S. participants expressed less fervor than their European and South American counterparts for adopting sustainability-oriented values and behaviors, consumers across all regions agreed that when it comes to packaging materials, plastic is the most problematic. More than half of respondents said they associate the word “harmful” with plastic, and 36% see it as “wasteful.” Sixty-three percent connect plastic to ocean pollution.

Similarly, a multi-country consumer survey conducted by Footprint, an Arizona-based materials science company that develops eco-friendly packaging for CPGs and grocery stores, found that 73% of consumers see a direct link between plastic packaging and climate change, and 65% would change grocery stores if they knew the company was committed to sustainable packaging.

Along with less plastic and more sustainable paper- and fiber-based packaging, consumers want transparency in sustainable packaging, Rachel Kenyon, SVP for Fibre Box Association, Itasca, Ill., told WGB. “They not only want to know where their food comes from, but how it’s packaged and what impacts that packaging has on the environment,” she said. “Most of all, they want brands to demonstrate that they are listening.”

A study by Tetra Pak confirms Kenyon’s assessment. In its 2021 Tetra Pak Index, the Switzerland-based packaging company found that consumers are choosing brands based on their sustainability credentials—even more so than before the pandemic—and they expect food and beverage companies to lead the way in finding solutions to environmental issues.

“We are seeing more brands that want to understand the full life cycle impact of the packaging they choose,” notes Tetra Pak VP of Chilled Cartons Michael Bertolino. This includes companies such as Petaluma, Calif.-based Clover Sonoma, which introduced to the U.S. dairy industry a fully renewable, plant-based milk carton in 2020. To let customers know about the packaging’s eco-benefits, an educational infographic is printed directly on the cartons.

“Eighty percent of consumers like the idea of a plastic-free shopping aisle, and 84% like the idea of a sustainable or plastic-free search option for online grocery.”

Shoppers are also looking for easy ways to locate sustainably packaged goods when shopping for groceries, added Footprint co-founder and CEO Troy Swope. “We found that 80% of consumers like the idea of a plastic-free shopping aisle,” he told WGB, “and 84% like the idea of a sustainable or plastic-free search option for online grocery.”

What consumers don’t want, according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. shoppers conducted by Chicago-based Retail Insight, is greenwashing. More than half (54%) of overall participants and 64% of those in the 35 to 44 age range said they believe that grocers too often pay only lip service to sustainable initiatives.

“It’s now more important than ever that grocers’ sustainability initiatives go beyond the rhetoric,” Retail Insight CEO Paul Boyle said in a statement. “Consumers are voting with their feet—and their wallets.”

Click here to return to the 2022 Sustainable Packaging Report

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