Sustainability Takes Center Stage
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that health concerns are currently driving consumer behaviors and purchases in today’s marketplace.
Research conducted by Paris-based Ipsos in July showed that 85% of consumers are concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Information Council, that same percentage of consumers (85%) reported that they’ve changed the way they eat or prepare food in the wake of the pandemic.
While the novel coronavirus is a major, and arguably overriding, worry, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t making decisions based on other timely situations, from social issues to environmental concerns.
- According to research, products with a sustainability claim have continued to grow during the pandemic.
- Industry insights back up the potential for reusable and/or refillable packages.
- Current concerns about health, wellness and sustainability will continue to shape choices in products and packaging.
On the environmental front, research released in July from Chicago-based IRI and the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business reveals that products with a sustainability claim have continued to grow during the pandemic. In fact, seven in 10 consumers said that they’re buying as many or more eco-friendly products than they did prior to the emergence of COVID-19.
Those findings affirm what another study found a few months ago. In a survey conducted by the Chicago-based Kearney consulting firm, nearly half of consumers said that the pandemic has made them even more concerned about the environment, and 11% reported that they’d changed purchases in the past year based on environmental claims.
CPGs and retailers are continuing with their own sustainability efforts in this issues-dominant year. In July, retailers such as The Kroger Co., Walmart, Target, CVS Health and Walgreens revealed that they’re working with the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag to find alternatives to single-use plastic shopping bags.
Sustainable packaging continues to be a focus for many CPGs and retailers. While many innovations have focused on reducing packaging materials and moving to recyclable packaging, reusable packaging and the use of reusable containers to move products through the supply chain represent another aspect of this issue that has caught the attention of those who make, sell and buy goods.
Consumer Packaging Put to Good (Re)Use
Industry insights back up the potential for reusable and/or refillable packages with a consumer base that remains engaged with the goal of greater sustainability. A report from New York-based CB Insights identified reusable packaging as one of 15 growing trends across the food, beverage and household essentials market in 2020.
According to research from the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, one-third of product and packaging companies said that they’re testing durable packages for reuse. The research also confirmed that while the current pandemic has slowed the use of things like reusable shopping bags at supermarkets and reusable personal cups at retail coffee chains, the public health crisis hasn’t halted the growth of all reusable solutions for consumer goods.
Paul Kamholz, VP of sales and marketing, North America for Goodyear, Arizona-based logistics and packaging solutions provider Schoeller Allibert, agrees that current concerns about health, wellness and sustainability will continue to shape choices in products and packaging.
“Europe has been ahead of North America in sustainability for a variety of reasons, but the people there are accustomed to the discipline required, and understanding of any potential ‘inconvenience,’” notes Kamholz.
In the current market, forms of reusable packaging vary. Consumers can refill, reuse or return packaging at home or on the go, depending on the product and where and how it’s consumed.
Kamholz predicts that changing logistics, especially in e-commerce, will continue to drive new uses. “We understand a shift to returnable packaging requires significant change to infrastructure, specifically in reverse logistics,” he observes. “It’s a slow evolution that is slowly picking up traction.”
The COVID-19 situation may be facilitating that traction, since the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of grocery e-commerce by consumers. To help grocers save time and materials while picking online orders, North Billerica, Mass.-based Alert Innovation offers an e-grocery micro-fulfillment center solution that automates the process, with features like chilled totes that eliminate the need for temperature-controlled trucks or freezers/refrigerators. Robots can also be used to drop off small totes to a self-service pickup area outside of a store.
On the topic of COVID-19, RPA has reiterated the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s statement that there’s no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of the virus. The organization also emphasizes the effectiveness of sanitation methods for food packaging, including reusable packaging that’s washed and sanitized after each use.