Five Ways to Help Your Customers Go Green

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Five Ways to Help Your Customers Go Green

By Linda Gilbert and Amy Hebard - 09/14/2012

Grocery stores are unique. Unlike most retail outlets, down every grocery aisle lays the opportunity to put green products in consumers’ hands, from fresh produce to dairy, from dry goods to the butcher, from both personal as well as household care products.

Yet the opportunity is too often untapped. More than half of grocery shoppers in the U.S. are frustrated; they wish they could buy environmentally friendly products, but say they are often not available or not affordable.

Capitalizing on this unmet need, grocers can realize new tactics to build loyalty and sales with their shoppers. Many retailers are leaving green – dollars, that is – in the aisle by failing to leverage their strengths and abilities. The question is, how? What’s a grocer to do?

Here are five to start with:

1. Celebrate the company you keep. When shoppers see eco-friendly brands showcased – even celebrated – in your store, they award you with green creds, seeing you as being more eco-friendly while helping them to be, too. Not surprisingly, shoppers often rate the natural and organic brands as the most eco-friendly. Among the leading brands, Yoplait is rated more eco-friendly than Dannon; Quaker more than Kellogg’s or General Mills; and Simply Orange more than Tropicana or Minute Maid. Know how your shoppers perceive the brands on your shelves. Help them make the eco-friendly brand choice that is right for them and their families.

2. Be a good neighbor. Two in three grocery shoppers say it is important to shop at a store that is a good neighbor in their community. Are you? From treating employees well, to supporting local farmers and suppliers, to creating teachable moments for parents with their children, to supporting recycling efforts to reduce waste. Find opportunities to engage with your shoppers for a healthier and more sustainable community.

3. Make it easy to be green. Instead, it’s getting harder; shoppers are more likely today than three years ago to say it is hard to figure out what choices to make. Most want to make the right choice, but they don’t want to have to do the homework – not only does it take time, all those labels are confusing, written in mouse print often with unpronounceable ingredients. They want a retailer who can be trusted help make eco-friendly choices easy. At the grocery store, that means a wider selection of healthy, locally produced, natural and organic products. It means packaging that is recyclable, reusable or recycled. It means choices that are affordable, practical, and that perform as well or better than their conventional counterparts. It means shelf placements that aren’t limited to the green grocery ghetto.

4. Keep it personal. For mainstream consumers, sustainability is about me and mine: it’s “My World, My Life” first, and only then the world and the greater good. So, start by speaking to what is most personal to shoppers. Their number one, personal eco priority is to reduce their household waste. Recognize that – help them with this by finding creative ways to reduce their household’s weekly garbage: recyclable containers, including for prepared food; on-site bottle returns that provide points for redemption in your store; neighborhood park cleanup sponsorships; refreshments for school, church and other community educational programs that promote environmentally responsible behaviors. Creativity is key – and, by the way, your employees’ ideas can be your best sources of what to do – ask them!

5. Give yourself credit for what you are already doing right. Don’t leave it on your website or limit sharing it only on your supplier conference calls. Tell your shoppers – show your shoppers – what you’re doing. Most of them are simply unaware and typically rate their grocer as “somewhat” eco-friendly at best, or even “not eco-friendly.” More than one in 10 has no idea where their retailer stands. Almost half (47%) of grocery shoppers want their retailer to offer information on recycling and other eco-friendly practices but aren’t getting it today.

Clearly, there are opportunities for better and more shopper communications. Speak to small steps that lay a foundation for the future, and how your store is helping shoppers take the next step to make their own homes and lifestyles healthier and more eco-friendly.

While more shoppers are rethinking how and where they shop, with the environment increasingly in mind, their understanding of what this means is getting more confused, not less. Retailers who want to put green in consumers’ carts – and the other kind of green in their bottom line – need to know where they are missing, meeting and can better meet the needs of their shoppers.

The founder and former president of HealthFocus International, Linda Gilbert is the founder and CEO for EcoFocus Worldwide, the source of the annual EcoFocus Consumer Survey of 4,200 U.S. consumers, covering 33 grocery retail chains. Amy Hebard is former research director of Earthsense, current director of operations for EcoMatters and a research partner to EcoFocus.