Five Consumer Trends and What They Mean to Sustainable Packaging

We recently sat in on a very interesting i2live webinar and just had to share some of our notes.  Linda Gilbert, CEO, EcoFocus Worldwide presented, “Sustainable Packaging for Organic and Natural Shoppers” and discussed survey findings highlighting insights like the fact that almost 1 in 3 shoppers today believe that healthier foods and beverages are made with only natural or organic ingredients. Many have trouble reconciling products that claim to be healthy or natural with packaging that is not eco-friendly.  We summed up the top five takeaways we heard on consumer trends when it comes to packaging and sustainability.

A little bit of background: EcoFocus tracks consumer trends in attitude and behaviors as it relates to sustainability and more. The EcoFocus Trend Survey data focused on packaging, gathering 2,000+ natural and organic shopper interviews in 2010 to 2011 using over 100 questions on packaging attitudes and behaviors.  The entire Sustainable Packaging for Natural and Organic Shoppers report has been released and is available on

#1 – Attitudes toward packaging are playing a greater role in brand perception and product choices

Natural and Organic Shoppers include 28% of US adults ages 18-25 years old, where they are rethinking packaging with the environment in mind.  Consumers are now turning more attention to the packaging itself.  As a result, attitudes and actions toward packaging are playing a greater role in their brand perceptions and product choices.  74% are ready to make changes for a more eco-friendly lifestyle, 69% say it is important to choose foods and beverages that are packaged responsibly, and 52% have already changed what they buy due to the amount or type of packaging.

#2 – Consumers connect personal health to the health of the environment

Consumers see a strong connection between their personal health and the health of the environment.  They aim to lead lifestyles with a focus on avoiding or reducing exposure to chemicals and toxins.  This poses a challenge for packaging because labels need to work harder to communicate information consumers consider most important and influential when shopping. 79% agree better personal health is a big benefit of an eco-friendly lifestyle.  76% expect a cleaner environment will mean less cancer and disease in the future.

#3 – Interest in reducing waste and wanting help in getting there

There is also a focus among consumers to reduce waste and provide ways to dispose of packaging. 78% of Natural and Organic Shoppers consider a company’s commitment to “reducing waste” extremely or very influential to their purchase decisions.  75% say the same about their commitment to “providing ways to dispose of packaging” and 71% say it is extremely or very important to “limit the amount of waste that my household produces”

One of the key takeaways here is that they want companies to help them reduce and dispose of packaging waste.  76% agree that manufacturers need to do a better job of telling consumers how to recycle or dispose of their packaging.  59% agree natural and organic products need to do a better job of packaging their products with recyclable materials.

#4 – Recyclable, refillable, and reusable packaging are the most desirable

More than 8 in 10 say recycling is important and expect that in the future it will be a habit for everyone.  But in practice, they recycle just somewhat more often than others.  Why the disconnect?  Responses seem to point to the “hassle factor as the hurdle” in which 57% agree “recycling is a bother, but it is worth it” and 21% say “it takes too much effort to sort our household trash into recycle bins.”

Recyclable, refillable, and reusable packaging are the most desirable EcoFriendly solutions for Natural and Organic Shoppers, followed by packaging that uses less plastic or is made from recycled materials.  78% try to buy products in packaging that is recyclable, 73% try to buy products in refillable or reuseable containers or packages, 69% try to buy beverages that use less plastic in their packaging, and 63% look for products in packaging that are made from recycled materials.

#5 – Affordability, availability, and practicality barriers vs. sustainability sweet spot success

The biggest challenge is that affordability, availability, and practicality are barriers for Natural and Organic Shoppers.  They “wish they could buy environmentally friendly products more often but” 71% say it is not affordable, 55% say it is not available, and 29% say it is not practical for their lifestyle.  There seems to be a disconnect that when you use less it should cost less, and it is clear that a new pricing frame of reference is needed through communications to consumers to address these barriers.  Packaging poses great opportunity here.

Success lies in finding the sweet spot where sustainability benefits intersect with health, safety, responsibility, economics, convenience, quality, performance, or other advantages to deliver sustainability with value-add.  When this is met there is consumer success, but on the flip side they are willing to exercise their veto vote when they learn a company is not responsible too – either socially (56%) or environmentally (52%).  Brand value and loyalty will be increasingly impacted by packaging.