Do pro-environment words translate into action for British shoppers?

Sustainable purchases show signs of decline amidst rising cost pressures on British households. But a new Kantar study has identified key connection points between what people say they will buy and what they actually buy when it comes to more eco-friendly products.
09 November 2022
Andrew Walker

Director, Client Knowledge, Worldpanel Division, UK

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In the Kantar Who Cares? Who Does? study, we see that only two of the top 10 eco-brands in Great Britain are growing. While consumers identified as “eco-active”, the most environmentally conscious, have reduced in number for the first time having increased consistently in each previous edition of the study. This eco-actives group of consumers represent £29 billion in spending on fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).

Kantar Worldpanel Sustainability Director, Natalie Babbage, said part of the reason for the decline in “eco-actives” is down to the shift in priorities that are now top of mind for consumers. She said a recent Kantar Global Barometer Study demonstrated that British consumers are focused on inflation, larger economic issues, and the war in Ukraine, which have all played out prominently in the media. As a consequence, environmental concerns appeared to be taking a back seat.

As has historically been the case, price has held some shoppers back from trading in their good intentions for actual purchases in these categories. A review of the top 10 brands most bought by eco-actives showed they had strong eco-credentials, but on average were 75% more expensive in their category.

But it is not just economic factors driving the shift away from more eco-friendly shopping.

The study found that, even among the eco-active group of shoppers, there were concerns about the veracity of eco-friendly claims made by brands.

Fifty-three percent of eco-active respondents agreed with the statement that “all companies only care about profits and eco-claims is just another marketing tool.” Babbage said this number reflected a meaningful level of cynicism and could impact action as eco-actives are typically defined by their optimism and belief that they can make a difference.

Creating opportunity

But the opportunity around eco-friendly goods remains. Kantar Worldpanel Client Knowledge Director, Andrew Walker, said that the data shows there is still untapped opportunity to meet needs of these British consumers.

Walker said one common barrier was availability, particularly on refillable products such as household cleaners. This can be compounded in cases where non-refillable packs of the same product are available on promotion at a cheaper price point that the refillable packs, making it more challenging for shoppers to make an eco-friendly choice.

“These barriers are having a real impact on intent…which brings about a real contrast between claimed and actual behaviour,” Walker said.

However, Walker and Babbage cautioned brands that shopper change was still likely to be very fluid in this area. Babbage pointed to global Kantar data that showed how changes in legislation or news headlines about local environmental challenges were often quick drivers of change in favour of eco-friendly purchasing.

Similarly, a review of global trends showed that whilst British shoppers were particularly attuned to plastic and animal welfare issues, they often lagged behind many other countries in considering the provenance of products when making purchases.

Babbage said this pointed to areas of opportunity for British brands as they stressed the value of locally produced meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables.

There are four questions to consider:

  1. Will your sustainable position stand up to increased value scrutinity?
  2. Are you doing enough to make your sustainable credentials stand out?
  3. Do you understand the barriers that create the value-action gap in your category?
  4. How can you find the sentiment that a sustainable choice has to be a compromise?

Learn more about inflation and the impact on sustainability with our eco-segmentation.

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