In a world where sustainability has become more in focus than ever before, Matt Ward, Field Sales Solutions Future Leaders Programme team member, explores how brands and retailers are attempting to meet environmental expectations and gives his view point on if what they are doing is enough to help to solve some of the most complex challenges facing our world.
Matt originally began exploring sustainability during his time working on the NPD Ferrero team. Part of his role was to explore new to market products, analyse and make recommendations based on field execution data. However, at Field Sales Solutions we believe in a true partnership approach, so when Matt advised that he was also working on a specialist sustainability insight project we knew he would add real value.Working in partnership with his client and field team, Matt used industry leading data reports, desktop research and field insight to provide a robust report and recommendation proposal. Working closely with the NPD team and in partnership with Ferrero this insight has already been ‘put into practice’ and helped drive change, with a real focus on driving a reduction in packaging and plastic use, coupled with their ambitious business goal to make all packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
In this summary, Matt shares his personal viewpoint on what he uncovered during his field research, sharing expert insight and honest, first hand, observation;
“Saving the Planet, quite rightly it’s become the key focus for everyone, but while we all recognise we need to ‘do our bit’ many are looking to brands and retailers to ‘lead by example’. If you look across the top retailers and suppliers both worldwide and at home, every one of them will have something to say about what they are doing to make this world a greener, plastic free place, which is a hugely positive step. However, actions speak louder than words so let’s explore what’s really happening behind the ‘PR’ and who’s actually taking action.
The question is, do they mean it?
Climate change is at the forefront of everyone’s mind but who’s responsibility is it to take action and be the leader?
Retailers appear to be embracing the current trend with each one communicating the good work they are doing with most having the year of 2025 to achieve various pledges and targets. Many retailers seem to have targeted the same, low hanging fruit; compostable and reusable bags are now the norm in fresh produce, and they say they are reducing packaging and exploring new materials all the time. Beyond this though, the view is somewhat more ‘low key’, in some select stores you might find refillable sections in Laundry courtesy of environmentally friendly brand leaders, Ecover (Fig.1), but from the retailers themselves, little appears to be going on. However, is it really their responsibility? Whilst they are consumer facing, the recently educated consumer is not actually blaming the retailer.
Figure 1: Ecover Refill Section in Waitrose Botley
Over the last 12 months, 74% of shoppers say they have become more aware of the environmental impact of packaging (IGD Research, IGD Shopper Vista, Base: 1724 British Shoppers). With environmental activists recruiting more to the ranks every day, the general public are making a myriad of changes at home to lessen their carbon footprint, and to cut down on their growing amounts of plastic waste. However, the consensus is that it is not their responsibility, nor does it fall on the retailers either. 48% of shoppers say it is the manufacturers who should be the ones taking action on plastic (Fig 2).
Figure 2: Who Should Act on Plastic Waste?, Who Cares, Who Does?, Kantar, Sept 2019
So, are manufacturers making the changes instead? The answer is dependent on the size of the company. Many larger companies, are now starting to make changes, refillable packs, thinner plastic, and alternative packaging are all starting to creep in across the manufacturing giants with some already there.
Coca Cola have been fully recyclable for years and are now pushing to increase the recycled PET content in their new bottles. Proctor and Gamble are also taking key steps by moving towards 100% recyclable and reusable packaging alongside a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from their manufacturing sites.
However, to most this is a new field with the majority only trialling small initiatives initially so that they are seen to be taking the “right” actions. In reality, it is not enough with most consumers wanting more, even if it comes at a cost to them. 57% of shoppers say that they are willing to spend a little more for recyclable packaging and a further 65% say they are willing to risk damage to the product if it means a reduction in plastic (IGD Research, IGD Shopper Vista, Base: 1724 British Shoppers). Whether this is realistic is debatable, but it is certainly telling of the current market trend.
However, there is hope out there in the form of small, entrepreneurial enterprises looking to disrupt the market. As previously mentioned, Ecover is one such company trying to make an impression in the Laundry category, NuCao another, sitting in confectionary (Fig 3). Their efforts have earned them key positioning across a number of retailers who are looking to showcase the environmentally friendly products they have available. This is a trend that can be found storewide. If you are plastic free, you get the space you want. Products in disinfectants, laundry, confectionary, and bakery have all tried this and earned themselves entire shelves and even bays in some stores.
Figure 3: NuCao range in Budgen’s
The key takeaway is that being eco-friendly at this point will be rewarded. From my own experience, retailers both small and large are starting to pressure some of their suppliers to force this as they are all aware of how the market is shifting. They are generally targeting easy categories, but those who are making the changes, are handsomely rewarded. However, stores are now going further than this and making a much larger dent in FMCG.
Today (21/10/2020) Asda announced it has opened a 'sustainability store' with cereals in refillable containers and fruit sold loose. The initiative comes following the supermarket's bid to reduce waste by 50%, and produce zero carbon emissions by 2040.
ASDA 'sustainability store' in Middleton, Leeds
Asda say the initiative could help save one million pieces of plastic from being used and has many well known brands on board to support the initiative, with products from PG Tips, Kellogg's, Radox and Persil among those that shoppers will be able to take home in their own refillable containers to cut down on waste.
The supermarket has also launched the 'Greener at Asda Price', a promise ensuring that unwrapped and loose fruit and vegetables will not cost more than packaged versions across all of its stores. Asda advise all new Initiatives being trialled in this store that prove successful could be rolled out across more Asda sites in 2021 and Roger Burnley, the chief executive of Asda, said: "Today marks an important milestone in our journey as we tackle plastic pollution."
Belsize Park Bugden’s is another store setting an innovative example of what a good retailer should look like. As you walk through the store doors you are greeted by a sign displaying the number of plastic free products they have (2600+ and counting). Everywhere else you look there is little to no packaging and communication at every angle telling you to “cut plastic out”.
Belsize Park Budgens
Refillable cereals, pastas, and coffee sit in their hundreds; you can now buy milk, chilled water and oils by the litre using your own container; every meat and fish counter is fully recyclable and on shelf you can see the trend moving away from plastic with eco-friendly products awarded entire bays to showcase their higher status. They are not completely there yet but what they are doing is showcasing the power a retailer can have.
Figure 4: Images taken in Budgen's Belsize Park.
Chilled water & milk section
Waitrose have also made a start with their trial store in Botley, but it is noticeable that yet again, they have targeted the low hanging fruit and the majority of their efforts have gone into communication. Nonetheless, consumers are responding to their efforts in a big way and the marketing comms and efforts are being listened to by an ever growing consumer demographic.
For brands and retailers thinking sustainability only matters for the millennial and Gen Z generation, it turns out they are not consumer anomalies. Rather, each age group is now becoming more y consistent in reporting the relative importance of sustainability and health attributes.
While Millennials may be leading the charge in sustainability awareness, every age group indicates that sustainability, environmental, and/or personal wellness attributes are significant considerations in selecting brands must deliver on omnipresence, agility, and sustainability
Shoppers also seek information on corporate sustainability policies. Many want assurances that brands support recycling, fund charitable causes, or take other actions demonstrating social responsibility.
Given that sustainability has now become a key part of consumers’ decision-making process, it’s imperative that brands and retailers increase their focus and improve their ability to meet these preferences. This offers competitors of all sizes the opportunity to build trust, especially with purpose-driven consumers.
If the retailers take note and push on the larger brands and the more overlooked categories, then change would follow thick and fast as the consumers vote with their feet. If both consumers and retailers put pressure on the manufacturers, then it would force them to make the change to avoid dwindling sales. The result would be a happier consumer, and most importantly, a greener planet which after all is everyone’s goal and ultimate responsibility.
In conclusion, “Sustainability” has become a key factor and consideration for all to embrace. Retailers and brands now need to deliver and rise to the demand of todays environmentally conscious consumers whose wants and needs are driven by an eco friendly and sustainable agenda.
It can seem daunting to incorporate sustainability into day to day strategy and operations, yet, success requires it to be part of both brands and retailers short- and long term strategic planning. There is no either or, but rather the responsibility of both to continue to promote a retail landscape that is both fit of the needs of today, whilst being ecologically sustainable for the future. We have a responsibility to future generations to ensure we take action now, to safeguard our 'tomorrow' ”
Matt’s insight and passionately personal synopsis of his project and findings is testament to the added value our account teams provide. Here at Field Sales Solutions we believe in a true partnership approach and we work with our clients to understand the challenges facing their brands, providing first hand expert insight into trends within the retail landscape and shopper behaviour as well as sharing thought leadership reports like this, to keep our partners aligned to the retail climate.
If you would like to find out more about how you can work with a field marketing team that’s absolutely focused on adding value through insight and partnership please don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out how we can make your sales, our business;David Louis, Sales & Marketing Director
+44 (0)7973 220347