The biggest change to shopping habits?

The biggest change to shopping habits?

Once upon a time, adding a dash of social conscience to your brand was, well, a really nice, decent thing to do.

Rejecting plastic packaging or showing off sustainable ingredients tended to be the preserve certain ‘boutique’ brands. And shoppers loved that the Innocents and Green & Blacks of this world made ‘buying the right thing’ a bit of a luxury.

A raft of public campaigns and a BBC documentary series later, and things have – rightly – taken a huge leap forward. Instead of enjoying being able to choose brands with a strong social conscience, shoppers are increasingly expecting to be able to do so.

Their collective call for action could bring about the biggest change in the sector for a generation.

A study by Unilever last year revealed that a third of consumers are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. And while that’s good for the planet, it could also be good news for the companies who make full use of the commercial opportunity this huge shift presents.

According to Unilever, more than one in five of the people surveyed said they would actively choose brands that made their sustainability credentials clearer on their packaging and in their marketing. This represents a potential untapped opportunity of €966 billion out of a €2.5 trillion total market for sustainable goods.

Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, commented: “This research confirms that sustainability isn’t a nice-to-have for businesses. In fact, it has become an imperative.”

Single-use plastic is the consumers’ biggest bug-bear right now and WRAP’s Plastic Pact, pledging that all plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2015, looks set to transform the way brands package their products, eliminating single use plastic packaging for good.

But tackling plastic is not the only way to appeal to the ethical consumer. Other labels including ‘Fairtrade’, ‘free range’, ‘pole and line caught’, ‘dolphin-friendly’ and ‘fair for farmers’ also have an impact on what shoppers pick off the shelves.

Two thirds of shoppers reckon they would always boycott a brand that lacked an ethical conscience, whether that be evading tax, poor working conditions for staff or their attitude towards environmental issues, and a third said there has been an instance where they have stopped buying a brand over their ethical stance.*

Brands are beginning to wake up to the environmental implications of their actions. For example, supermarket chain Iceland, currently undergoing its own metamorphosis, is in the process of ditching palm oil from all its own-brand products in response to the devastating effect palm oil production is having on tropical rainforests.

This awakening of brand consciousness extends well beyond the grocery sector. Unsurprisingly Britain’s best-loved brand, LEGO®, has announced that its first sustainable bricks will be launched this year, made from botanical elements such as leaves, bushes and trees.

At Product of the Year, we are seeing the effects of this sea-change in attitudes towards ethical consumerism. With the public vote determining our winners, we weren’t surprised to see products such as Arla Organic free Range Milk and Taylors of Harrogate (compostable) Coffee Bags taking the top spots.

With more of our supporters, including highly influential brands such as Arla, Birds Eye, P&G, Asda and Unilever, signing up to initiatives including the plastics pledge, we expect competition over ethical credentials to become much more fierce, which is good for brands, good for Product of the Year and great for the consumer. And may prove a godsend for the planet.


*Research by Fourth, provider of cost control software for the hospitality industry, April 2018.