The growing consumer interest in sustainability

woman checking label

Once the distant cause of the Greenpeace-supporting minority, sustainability has become an immediate concern for the majority. Thanks in no small way to heavyweight environmental campaigners such as Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough, who have made climate change and environmental issues mainstream news, the message that the success of our future is intrinsically linked to the health of our environment, and that we all have a responsibility to do something about it, has been conveyed loud and clear. And individuals are using their consumer purchasing power to influence their futures with this in mind.

Social media’s ‘swipe up’ culture has been blamed for precipitating a buy more, buy cheaper approach to shopping, that has led, arguably, to mindlessly excessive and unsustainable levels of consumption. But the sustainability messages that have taken centre stage over the last few years have gradually caused the consumer to seek a slower, more mindful approach to shopping, that emphasises durability and functionality, while supporting well-being for people and the environment. Indeed, Global Data’s 2019 Q3 consumer survey showed that 60% of respondents claimed to be interested in ‘low carbon footprint’ and ‘low water footprint’ promises on food and drink. It is no longer enough for the beverage industry to offer consumers good value, great tasting drinks. Sustainability can no longer be a niche or nice-to-have for companies as they look to meet the demands of a more conscious consumer.

As the more eco-minded Millennials and GenZ drive the consumer agenda through their increasing purchasing power, the movement towards greener products that offer transparency, traceability and clean labels is growing. Drinks producers need to look more towards natural ingredients with a traceable provenance and sustainable supply chain if they want to establish or develop a trustworthy brand and keep their consumer on side. The imminent inclusion of carbon footprint labelling on product packaging will play a part in this. However, with half of the world’s population predicted to be living in water stressed areas by 2025, and the World Economic Forum ranking ‘water crises’ as the fourth biggest global risk by impact facing society over the next decade, it might not be long before water footprint labelling finds its place on packaging too.

Rapid urbanisation is also affecting consumer preferences. The United National Population Fund has predicted that this trend will see 68% of the world’s population live in urban areas by 2050. The associated shrinking of available space in the home, office and shared environments will see a growth in the sharing and second-hand economies, as well as a consumer that is prepared to pay more for less. This will feed into the desire for products that meet the individuals’ personal values where sustainability and health are concerned.

The smart drinks producer is already gaining accreditation with approved governing bodies like Carbon Trust, while investigating ways of further reducing their carbon, waste and water footprints. This will include reviewing energy consumption and packaging options. For some, this will also mean looking closer to home for a local supply chain that carries lower transport miles and, with it, more traceability. Indeed, the wise will be seeking not only traceable but also fairtrade supply chains and natural ingredients that meet the sustainable agenda; all while trialling new ways of communicating these valuable benefits.

The sustainability issue strikes right to the heart of the drinks industry. Naturally water is an essential part of its products but so too are certain crops that, due to climate change and deforestation, are becoming less productive, with some even threatened by failure altogether, such as banana and coffee bean crops. The growing consumer interest in sustainability could not have arrived soon enough and there is a hope that it will drive a faster turning of this worrying tide. Only time will tell.

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