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Forward-thinking sustainability initiatives are no longer a nice-to-have for retailers. Having a position on sustainability and following through on those commitments have become table stakes for any company in the current retail environment.
“Consumers are continuing to place an emphasis on sustainability when making purchasing decisions, indicating that eco-friendly lifestyles are here to stay,” says Colin Stewart, EVP, business intelligence at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Acosta. “Retailers have an opportunity and responsibility to think through their environmental footprint and deliver value in ways that matter increasingly more to their customers.”
According to Stewart, 69% of consumers surveyed by Acosta in 2021 agreed that sustainability was a somewhat/very important consideration when purchasing consumer packaged goods. “Since concern for the environment is clearly impacting shopping habits, retailers must take demand into account when looking at product assortments and larger business strategies,” he says.
“Investing in green products is increasingly critical for retailers, as purchases within this category are on the rise,” continues Stewart. “Consumers are particularly interested in fresh produce and green cleaning products. Eighty-five percent of consumers who buy green products say they will always or most likely buy them in the future.”
Food waste is another increasing concern for consumers. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed by Acosta said that minimizing food waste was their most important consideration when deciding on a retailer, and nearly every shopper surveyed agreed that food waste is a problem within the United States. Additionally, 64% of shoppers said that they’d made a conscious effort to decrease food waste over the past year. “Given consumers’ concern over food waste and their increasing awareness of its environmental impact, retailers would be extremely wise to make food waste reduction a top priority,” advises Stewart.
As most shoppers make more of an effort to live eco-friendlier lifestyles, recycling has come into sharper focus. “Our research found that 80% of shoppers have made it a priority to reduce, reuse and recycle products and packaging,” notes Stewart. “Older shoppers (Boomers+) are more likely to recycle, while younger shoppers (Gen Z and Millennials) are more inclined to modify their buying habits. Importantly, 60% of all shoppers surveyed say they are paying more attention to product packaging and its impact on the environment.”
Data from the Murphy Research and the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (CCRRC) indicates that 80% of shoppers think food retailers should expand their focus beyond sales by implementing initiatives to help employees and communities. “Retailers who make it clear that their larger purpose extends towards making the world a better place will likely be viewed more favorably by consumers than retailers who appear to be solely focused on earnings,” says Stewart.
The following content reveals what some retailers and CPG companies are doing to make their operations more sustainable in terms of sourcing, food waste, energy use and packaging.