NEW YORK — Sustainability sells, and food and beverage manufacturers could further pounce on the opportunity by matching a specific product with the most effective claim, with choices like free-from, Fair Trade and organic.
Nielsen data show 73% of global consumers said they definitely would change or probably would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Another 81% said it was either “extremely” or “very” important that companies implement programs to improve the environment.
“No longer is the purchasing decision boiling down to a simple question of how much does it cost and how much do I want this item?” said Julia Wilson, director, global responsibility and sustainability for Nielsen, in a Feb. 7 webinar. “Consumers are thinking more deeply about what happened before their moment of purchase and what will happen to whatever packaging or other materials used in the product after they’re done using it.”
A sustainability claim might appear best suited for one product, but it might work better in another product. Sales of ice cream with Fair Trade claims made up 11% of all ice cream category sales in the 52-week period ended March 31, 2018, which ranked ahead of coconut water at 7% and nutrition bars at 3%, according to Nielsen.
Yet Fair Trade claims might make more sense for the latter two categories.
Sales of coconut water with Fair Trade claims rose 32% in the time period while sales fell 5% in the overall category. Sales of nutrition bars with Fair Trade claims rose 28%, which compared to a 1% drop in the overall category. Sales of ice cream with Fair Trade claims increased 1%, but that percentage trailed the overall category at 3% sales growth.
“It’s important to understand that just because sustainability on a broad scale is driving growth, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Sarah Schmansky, vice-president, fresh/health and wellness growth and strategy for Nielsen. “What’s common among the breakthrough innovation winners is that they understood what specific attribute mattered the most to their consumer and delivered on that.”
In ice cream, high-protein claims might work better, she said.
“There’s really nothing we should consider a commodity anymore, and there’s really no one ingredient trend that will guarantee success uniformly,” Ms. Schmansky said. “It’s about looking at a granular level within your category or your brand to identify the product attributes that are driving consumer excitement the most.”
Sustainable claims increasing the most in sales include sustainable fishing, up 27% over the 52-week period ended Jan. 5, and grass-fed, up 20% over the same time period.
Buyers of sustainable products are more likely to be well-educated and have higher incomes, Ms. Schmansky said.
Sustainability claims work well across all generations. Millennials (ages 21 to 34) lead the way as 85% said it is “extremely” or “very” important that companies implement programs to improve the environment. The percentages were high as well for Generation Z (15-20) at 80%, Generation X (35-49) at 79%, baby boomers (50-64) at 72% and the silent generation (65 and over) at 65%.
Shoppers of sustainable products are 22% more likely to shop on a handheld device, 11% more likely to shop online than in the store and 12% more likely to use handheld devices when they are in the store. Companies should note that this connection to the internet gives consumers a way to verify claims, Ms. Schmansky said.
“Truly what we’re seeing is that consumers are their own fact-checkers,” she said. “When you’re walking into a store or shopping online, it’s super easy for you as a consumer to validate the claims that a company might be making.”
Nielsen gave several examples of a sustainable product: has a sustainability claim; less than 10 ingredients, all of which must be recognizable, in a product; and contains no ingredients found on Nielsen’s “no no” list, which may be found here.
Nielsen data show U.S. sales of products with sustainable claims rose 5.8% in the 52-week period ended Dec. 29, 2018, which compared to a sales increase of 0.4% in conventional food items. Nielsen forecasts that by 2021 U.S. shoppers will spend up to $150 billion on sustainable goods
“If there were any lingering doubts, yes, sustainability does sell,” Ms. Wilson said.