Green consumerism is on the rise in the UK. A growing number of shoppers consider the impact on the environment of the products they buy. As a consequence, new eco-friendly trends are emerging: Brits want greener products, more plant-based options and more local products. Sustainable packaging is also a hot topic, with plastic phobia gaining ground. In this article, we explore these new eco-friendly trends and how they are changing the consumer landscape.

Environmental sustainability is a major concern


Environmental sustainability has become one of the key concerns driving consumer habits. According to KPMG research, two-thirds (67%) of Brits say they care more about the environmental impact of the consumer goods they buy today, compared to 5 years ago. The youngest and oldest generations are the most engaged, with 76% of those aged 18 to 24 and 68% of those aged 55 and over saying they care more about their impact on the environment than they did 5 years ago.

In addition, the research shows that UK consumers are willing to pay an average of 8.5% more for environmentally-friendly consumer goods.

However, value for money remains critical. Stan Sthanunathan, Unilever’s EVP of Global Consumer and Market Insight, told Kantar: “Sustainability alone is not enough, consumers want it all. It is not enough for a product to be sustainable but less good than the best the category can offer in terms of quality and value for money. People are not prepared to compromise on efficacy or pay more for the privilege. Consumers want it all. What we are now seeing is that sustainability drives brand love and therefore brand preference.”

Products are becoming more environmentally-friendly


Brands are increasingly showcasing their commitment to the environment on product packs. Environmental claims are flourishing such as: no palm oil, sustainable fishing, no antibiotics, no fertilisers, etc.

As an example, the leading frozen food brand Birds Eye recently launched an on pack promotion for its Fish Fingers and Coated Fish range to highlight its sustainable fishing practices. Steve Challouma, Birds Eye Marketing Director, explained in a press release: “As the biggest brand in the UK, when it comes to certified sustainable and responsible seafood sourcing, our Follow the Fish campaign forms part of our on-going mission to drive awareness around the importance of responsible fishing.” He added: “We’ve realised our aim of having 100% of our fish portfolio in the UK MSC labelled or ASC labelled, and we really want consumers – who are increasingly concerned about sourcing transparency – to feel inspired by our own commitment.”

Retailers are also taking action. Selfridges for instance has made all its own-brand foods free from palm oil.  Simon Forster, Selfridges Managing Director, told The Guardian: “We’re committed to buying better to inspire change. The removal of palm oil from our Selfridges Selection range is the latest demonstration of this approach. We believe that until certified palm oil guarantees zero deforestation, our customers should be given the option to buy palm oil-free products. Our expectation is that all brands we work with are aware of and actively engaging with the issues surrounding palm oil and deforestation.”

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There is growing appetite for plant-based options


In recent years, the number of vegetarians and vegans in the UK has increased significantly: research from Waitrose shows one in eight Brits are now vegetarian or vegan. In addition, it is estimated that one in three (34%) British meat eaters have reduced their meat consumption, adopting a flexitarian approach.

According to Mintel, in 2018, the UK was the country with the highest number of new vegan food products launched. As many as one in six (16%) food products launched in the UK in 2018 had a vegan/no animal ingredient claim, doubling from just 8% in 2015.

Alpro, a Shopmium partner, is one of the fastest-growing plant-based alternatives brands. Alpro plans on launching several new ranges in the coming months, including coffee and high protein products. David Jiscoot, Alpro Marketing Director for UK & Ireland, told The Grocer that “Alpro’s mission was to deliver a plant-based solution in every consumption moment by tapping into plant-based usage out of home and on the go”. The brand just rolled out a branding refresh. David Jiscoot explained: “Our new packs are perfectly placed to attract even more new shoppers, as well as increase frequency of purchase among our existing fanbase, with our own research showing that eight out of 10 people would be likely to buy Alpro under the new branding.”

Consumers are buying more British and local products


According to the IRI UK Shopper Insights Survey, 67% of British consumers prefer products that have made a short journey before arriving in store. Environmental sustainability is one of the key factors behind the purchase of local brands in the UK.

Olly Abotorabi, Senior Regional Insights Manager at IRI, said: “Consumers are increasingly aware of the fact that food grown closer to home means fewer carbon emissions, will be fresher and supports the local economy, and as a result we’re seeing local and national brands starting to win consumers’ hearts and minds. In the UK in particular we have a vibrant and innovative ‘local scene’ where challenger brands are emerging as winners, driven by huge amounts of creativity and a desire for authenticity and provenance.”

He added: “We’re seeing more retailers in this country champion local food suppliers in an effort to cut food miles, support local businesses and differentiate their offerings by devoting more store space to local products. But both the retailers and the food producers themselves need to work together to ensure they can convert those who are interested but not yet ‘buying local’ by ensuring the price is right and that shoppers can find the products on shelves before they walk out of the store.”

Smaller local brands are capitalising on this trend such as spoiltpig which offers responsibly farmed British bacon from the West Country.

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Sustainable packaging is no longer a nice-to-have


According to research from YouGov, eight in ten (82%) British consumers are trying to reduce their plastic waste and nearly half (46%) feel guilty about the amount of plastic they use.

The most common items for which consumers are actively trying to reduce single-use plastic purchase are: fresh fruit and vegetables (for 81% of consumers), household/cleaning products (for 36%), homeware (for 32%), personal care (for 27%) and cosmetics and skin care (for 18%).

When given the choice of eco-friendly packaging at a higher price, or standard packaging at the normal price, half of consumers (50%) say they would opt for the eco-friendly option and a third for the standard packaging (33%). In fact, more than two thirds of Brits (69%) believe that all companies should be required by law to use eco-friendly packaging, even if it means prices going up.

Unilever for example recently announced an ambitious plan to drastically reduce plastic use by 2025. The company has committed to halving its use of virgin plastic, by reducing its absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerating its use of recycled plastic. Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, said: “Our starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources. We are also committed to ensuring all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable. This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products. It requires us to introduce new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models, like re-use and re-fill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity.”

Procter & Gamble has also committed to more sustainable packaging. The company said it will increase the amount of recycled plastic in its laundry, shampoo and dishwashing bottles over the next couple of years.

Some initiatives go even further, such as the TerraCycle and Walkers crisp packet recycling scheme. Walkers explains on its website: “At the moment, the packaging we use is the best way to keep our crisps crunchy and delicious. However, we’re aiming to make all our packaging 100% recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025. In the meantime, we’ve partnered with recyclers TerraCycle to make it easier to recycle our crisp packets and reduce the impact we have on the environment.” The recycling scheme has been a huge success, exceeding the brand’s expectations.

As a conclusion, environmental concerns are significantly changing consumer habits. To continue appealing to consumers and generate sales in-store, FMCG brands should take a hard look at their products and packaging. Environmental sustainability will play an increasingly important role in the future.