Do you love your mother?
The answer to this simple yet loaded question is generally a resounding “yes!” That’s true whether referring to one’s birth mother or Mother Earth. In both cases, most people say they want what’s best for her; but their actions don’t necessarily match their words. Sometimes that’s because it’s simply too hard, other times it’s because they’re not quite sure what to do; or how to do it.
When it comes to “Mother Earth”, we can be of some help – at least with regard to environmentally friendly packaging.
Perception Research Services has been conducting shopper research for the past four years that tracks what shoppers say and do with regard to packaging and the environment. Our latest findings reveal a growing desire to select environmentally friendly packaging, along with increasing frustrations about how to do so.
Last year witnessed a rise in the proportion of shoppers wanting to choose environmentally friendly packaging, and despite the economy, fully half said they are willing to pay more for such packaging. This is especially true of younger shoppers (those under 40).
Importantly, environmental claims on packaging act as meaningful calls to action. Over half of our sample reported that seeing such claims positively impacts their buying behavior.
Fortunately, these types of claims abound. In fact, for the past two years, a majority of shoppers reported seeing more environmental claims when shopping for grocery products.
But, unfortunately, there is evidence that this abundance of messaging may not be providing as much benefit as it could be. Despite so many claims being made, more shoppers stated that:
- there isn’t enough environmental information
- they’re confused by all of the different environmental claims
- they don’t know which package is best for the environment
Of the various claims seen, those having to do with recycling (recyclable, made from recycled material) are both noticed most and have the most impact on buying behavior. Conversely, the made with less material claim is less influential.
In order to understand more specifically which environmental claims work well on packaging, we conducted a separate study last year assessing eight different claims that exist on various national and regional brands of bottled water. We evaluated these claims in terms of how meaningful they are to shoppers, as well as how noticeable they are on pack (using PRS Eye-Tracking).
We learned that while “100% recyclable” was the most meaningful message, it was the least noticeable, by far (seen by only 4% of shoppers). None of the claims were seen by more than 30% of shoppers (meaning 70% or more did not see the claims!).
In addition, many of the claims – such as Plant Based, Eco-Shaped and 1% for the planet – were not at all meaningful to shoppers.
Of course, stating that a package is recyclable will only be truly meaningful if shoppers do, in fact, recycle their packaging. In our tracking survey, two-thirds said they recycle packaging on a regular basis – and last year we saw a rise in the proportion of shoppers checking to see if a package can be recycled prior to buying it.
Notably, those who do not recycle said that the single biggest reason they don’t is because they forget to do so. This suggests that messaging could serve as a useful reminder. Encouraging more recycling would also help bridge the gap between shoppers’ stated concern for the environment (66% very/somewhat concerned) and their level of activity in helping the environment (46% very/somewhat active).
Helping consumers to remember to recycle at home fits nicely with recent efforts on the part of several food and beverage companies in the United States to assume the costs of recycling their packaging after use – known as “extended producer responsibility”. These efforts include setting up recycling collection bins at retailers such as Whole Foods, or at sporting events such as NASCAR.
The reclaimed packaging is re-made into a similar product container, or transformed for some other purpose – such as toothbrushes and razors from plastic yogurt cups, or napkins from paper coffee cups.
As most CPG companies are developing various kinds of overarching “Sustainability” plans which include some considerations for packaging (reducing the amount of material used, using recycled content and/or recyclable or renewable materials), it will be important to align with shoppers’ desires and behaviors, as well as continuing to educate (or at a minimum, inform) them about the efforts that have been made.
With packaging serving as the brand touch point that shoppers notice most, it makes sense that it is a key part of manufacturers’ sustainability programs. It should be noted though, that as shoppers become more active in this area, they are scrutinizing efforts and claims that are being made. These efforts must therefore be handled carefully.
For example, stating that a bottle is made with 30% less material will start to lose its benefit as shoppers wonder “less than what?”. If it’s less than the bottle that was sold over a year ago, that may no longer seem all that meaningful. This will seem more egregious if the containment properties of the new bottle are not equal to those of the prior version (e.g., if it is so thin that it collapses when opening, thereby spilling water).
If a bottle is recyclable, then stating that message clearly will be compelling. And if the communication can also remind shoppers to actually recycle the package, then all the better.
Finally, the more complex activities, such as providing plant-based bottles, will require extensive educational efforts – beyond simple on pack messaging – that both inform shoppers about the environmental benefits, as well as reassuring them about the package’s ability to perform.
Shoppers really do want to help the environment but they need help to do so effectively and consistently. While they will not compromise functionality, they are willing to pay a bit more for more for environmentally friendly packaging as long as they understand which packages are better for the environment and are reminded of steps they can take.
In addition to providing meaningful alternatives in terms of products and packages that truly provide environmental benefits, manufacturers can help shoppers by crafting appropriate messages that reassure (e.g., “still 16 oz.”), inform (e.g., “made from 30% recycled content”) and encourage (“100% recyclable”).
It should be noted that while the content of the message is important, so too is the manner of execution. When applied to packaging, care must be taken to ensure that it will be sufficiently visible. If it goes unseen, then all of the efforts to provide environmental benefits could be for naught.
By creating eco-friendly packaging that delivers benefits that shoppers care about, understand, and will make use of, will ultimately reduce waste and lessen the carbon footprint.
And that’s something that every Mother could be proud of!
About the author
Jonathan Asher, EVP at Perception Research Services
As Executive Vice President, Director of Account Management, Jonathan oversees the company’s client services function including account management and marketing communications, and also manages client relationships for qualitative and quantitative studies. He is highly sensitive to the information needs of designers while also having a researcher’s ability to ask questions in an effective and appropriate manner. He is particularly adept at illuminating the risk of making wrong decisions as well as the opportunity cost of missing out on the right ones.
Jonathan has over 30 years of experience in consumer goods marketing beginning as a project director for Newman Stein, Inc. He also held research positions with Thomas J. Lipton (now Unilever) and the Lorillard division of Loews Corporation. Jonathan entered the design field by joining Gerstman+Meyers (now Interbrand) where he was vice president, director of marketing services. He went on to lead The Coleman Group where he developed the company’s proprietary strategic services. From there, he established the New York office of Dragon Rouge, a leading, privately held European design agency.
A frequent speaker and lecturer on topics pertaining to marketing and design, Jonathan, has been quoted in major publications including Fortune, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Brandweek, and Advertising Age.
Jonathan is also a Distinguished Faculty Member at the Path to Purchase Institute (formerly The In-Store Marketing Institute). He can be reached at email@example.com.