Consumer interest in sustainability shows few signs of running out steam. While COVID-19 may have disrupted pretty much everything, recent studies have found that it has not dented consumers’ concerns about whether food, or its packaging, is produced sustainably.
The recent backlash against U.K. supermarkets for stocking eggs in plastic boxes -- a change made in response to increased demand for pulp from the health sector -- illustrates well that consumers are less tolerant of products that they don’t perceive to be sustainable, even where a change has been made due to tending the sick!
With this strong interest in sustainability, it's of little surprise that market data company Innova Market Insights has identified communicating sustainability as the key trend in food and drink packaging, based on its research across the Americas, Asia and Europe.
Consumer sustainability expectations are now higher than ever, it says, pushing companies to prioritize eco-efficiency, especially in reducing food and plastic waste.
Sustainable outperforming conventional
And further illustrating that sustainability concerns have not disappeared during the pandemic, a separate U.S.-focused study, carried out by the New York University (NYU) Stern Center for Sustainable Business and data company IRI, found that during the week ending March 15, when consumer packaged goods sales peaked due to COVID-19, sustainably-marketed products experienced a 1.9 percentage point increase in market share in comparison with the week before, while by value, sales rose by 56%
Innova has found that between 2015 and 2019, over one third of the food and beverage launches that it tracked carried ethical packaging claims. These varied from energy use, highlighting use of renewable materials, being free from plastics, or detailing source reduction or packaging end of life claims.
Trust certifications, marks, and logos are now increasingly common to inform consumers of resource circularity, it adds, while the incorporation of recycled plastics into trays and pots, for example, is on the rise.
One of the biggest changes in recent months has been the move to online shopping. This has led to an increase in demand for corrugated board, which also must have environmental credentials, Innova notes. Trends in this area have included the development of lightweight, recyclable, boxes that are made with minimal resources, but that minimize damaged during transit and still engage consumers during opening.
According to Professor Tensie Whelan, NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business founding director, consumers recognize that they can influence brands to “do the right thing.” This has never been as important as it is now, she believes, adding that the purchase of sustainable products is a trend with “staying power”.