Personal care brands must innovate to tackle the sustainability conundrum

Our new study, “Personal Care or Planet Care?”, uncovers what sustainability really means to British consumers.
23 October 2020
Personal Care or Planet Care
Abbi Ashby

Client Executive, Usage Care, Worldpanel Division

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Sustainability is a hot topic in personal care. Consumers are increasingly demanding products which care for the environment as well as satisfying personal care needs, and retailers and governments are applying pressure on brands and manufacturers to act.

Our #WhoCaresWhoDoes 2020 study, published in September, reveals that globally consumers feel that manufacturers are most responsible for tackling plastic waste. But with only 22% of respondents able to name an FMCG brand that is doing a good job, the opportunity to make an impact is evident.

In addition, the number of “Eco Actives” – the most environmentally conscious consumers - has grown from 16% of the population in 2019 to 20% now. These consumers favour products that are natural, or have health benefits. Winning a bigger share of their $382 billion FMCG spend will require brands to innovate and deliver products that meet these new needs. 

When it comes to personal care, it’s important for brands and manufacturers to continue to communicate around consumer needs and product benefits, in addition to demonstrating sustainable credentials.

COVID-19 and caring for the planet

While doomsaying headlines may lead you to believe that COVID-19 has put sustainability on the backburner for many consumers – it’s wrong to assume that the pandemic and recession will spell the end of demand for sustainable options. It’s true that during the initial weeks of the pandemic some consumer behaviours changed.  People opted for packaged fruit and veg rather than loose (which may have been a result of availability rather than preference) and there was less of a demand for eco-friendly laundry products. And while the recession will have an impact on how consumers use products, we anticipate that when people do use them, sustainability ls will still be important for the following reasons:

  • Price is not a barrier: The recession may mean that there are more people with lower incomes. However, price is one of the lowest barriers to buying sustainable products (trust is the top barrier). Regardless of income level or working status, only one in three consumers say sustainable or natural products are ‘not worth the price.’

  • Government regulations: Commitments have already been made by the government aimed at tackling the issue, for example, the plastic packaging tax will see companies paying £200 per tonne of packaging made from less than 30% recycled plastic from April 2022.

  • Social media: Consumers are gaining a voice online and shining a spotlight on manufacturers and brands which are not making efforts to be more sustainable or natural. This means in many cases there’s more risk attached to not acting.

Function before beauty

Our new study, “Personal Care or Planet Care?” uncovers which personal care products are top of the list for British consumers and what sustainability really means to them. It finds that respondents are more likely to be open to sustainable alternatives for functional or grooming products like razors, hair care, face wipes, and washes.  Beauty categories, such as styling products, cosmetics and hair colourants fall further down the list. This may be because functional products are often at a lower price so there is less risk in trying an alternative, and they’re used more often, meaning that there’s more opportunities to try a sustainable option. 

We also asked our respondents category-specific questions about what would appeal to them most in a sustainable or natural product. In almost all cases, the findings show that consumers want manufacturers to put the work in, not themselves. Generally, they want a product that is sustainable when they buy it, such as plastic free, carbon footprint efficient, cruelty free, or using sustainable palm oil, rather than them having to take action such as composting, closed loop recycling, or refilling products.

That said, a product being recyclable is appealing to consumers across categories. The relative importance of this tension will differ across categories, and it is important to understand what is most relevant for consumers of the category and specific brand, but it is clear that they are looking to brands to lead and guide them in navigating the issue.

A targeted view of sustainability

In the study, we look at consumers’ openness to natural and sustainable products, as well as how to address these trends in personal care. This becomes incredibly powerful when combined with the actual purchase behaviours and needs that these people have. By isolating users of particular categories or brands, we can understand what the world of sustainability and naturals looks to them. This gives brands the ability to target them in the most relevant way possible - using the right needs messaging, and design. 

Get in touch to find out more about how we can help brands zone in on key gender or age targets and to understand what competitors are doing in this space. You can also register for our webinar at 2pm on 3 November, where our experts will take you through the key findings of the study.

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