As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, we might also consider taking stock of how our habits reflect a commitment to sustainability. Consumers have certainly been taking stock of retailer dedication to sustainable practices. The impetus—and expectation—to focus on sustainability has skyrocketed, and will continue to: 85% of consumers in the U.S. and the United Kingdom expect companies to invest in sustainability. So how can grocery retailers keep up? Clear development of and participation in sustainability initiatives is the answer.
Communication & Signage
A recent Date Check Pro survey asked consumers if seeing a sustainability focused ad (compared to a more traditional ad) would impact their decision to shop at a particular store. 44.8% of respondents said they would be more or much more likely to shop at a store using sustainability-focused advertising; a fairly significant figure. How can the grocery retailer take notes? Signage and advertisement about sustainability initiatives might take precedence. Does your store advertise its ongoing sustainability efforts? How obvious or available are your eco-friendly products? Will a customer leaving your retail space leave with clear knowledge of what the store is doing to contribute to a mission of sustainability? These are questions to consider when assessing the physical markers of sustainability in your store, and appealing to customers who 1) Care about sustainability, and 2) Will feel better shopping at a store that does, too—and, therein, will want to shop with a store that holds their same principles.
One initiative to consider is physical indicators of environmentally friendly products, whether it be distinct signage or on-package stickers. Such indicators are a way to point consumers in a sustainable direction while advertising the retailer’s commitment to sustainable sourcing and stocking. Whole Foods Market recently began placing a Sourced for Good seal on products that support workers, communities and the environment, making it easier for shoppers to determine which products are responsibly sourced. Some already sustainable-minded consumers will look for ecolabels—which identify products proven environmentally preferable overall—but many will react more strongly to a bold, clear placement of a sticker or sign indicating that a particular product or brand is a sustainable choice. Making the sustainable choice obvious will help a customer believe in the brand, in the experience, and in their own contribution to reducing environmental impact by choosing sustainability.
Clear communication of behind-the-scenes sustainability is just as important as physical markers. Last month, ALDI reaffirmed its commitment to lowering greenhouse gases, reducing food and operational waste, improving packaging and responsible sourcing. CEO Jason Hart said that “Aldi has a responsibility to protect the environment, and we know it’s an important priority for our customers. We are committed to evaluating and implementing sustainable business practices while always offering the highest-quality products at prices that can’t be beat.” Large retailers like ALDI have entire sections on their website dedicated to what level of dedication they have to sustainability and are completely transparent about their projections for a sustainable future. A grocer might also offer this type of transparency by publishing a yearly sustainability report, writing about sustainability efforts in a monthly newsletter, advertising campaigns online, in-app, or in-store, or using TV or radio advertisements to highlight a dedication to lessening environmental impact. Consumers want transparency—followed by follow through on promises.
Consumerism is a conversation between seller and buyer: Don’t let the dialogue fall short of providing the customer a clear “how” in order to provide an equally meaningful “why.” Take Procter & Gamble’s latest sustainability campaign, It’s Our Home, as an example: The initiative is “ramping up consumer communication about sustainability, bringing greater attention to…eco-friendly partnerships, product formulations and packaging and giving helpful tips to consumers about how they can help the planet from home.” Sustainability efforts should hold weight on their own—but it’s up to a retailer to advertise efforts clearly enough that consumers feel confident that their participation in an initiative will make a meaningful impact.
Loyalty Programs & Incentives
Acting sustainably is a reward all in itself; albeit, an indirect, long-term reward. How can retailers reward their consumers for shopping sustainably in a realistic, non-wasteful way? Loyalty programs might offer incentives for members who practice sustainability. An example of this is Natural Grocers’ Ladybug Love Pledge, which they rolled out for a fourth annual time this month in honor of Earth Day. The online pledge “encourages customers to take or renew the pledge to refrain from using lawn and garden chemicals that harm ladybugs and other beneficial insects, and to support 100% organic produce.” For every pledged signed, the grocer will donate $1 to Beyond Pesticides. The initiative also involves donations to Ladybug Love Your Neighborhoods projects in certain communities, discounts and flash sales on eco-friendly products, various sweepstakes for NG gift cards, and a limited-edition Ladybug Love reusable bag for the retailer’s reward program members. Customers join loyalty programs for the discounts and rewards—but also for the exclusivity. Consumers like perks. Incentivizing sustainable consumption through loyalty program perks makes for a win-win-win: Retailer, customer, and environment.
The U.S. generates more plastic waste than any other country in the world—and plastic is a major driver of climate change worldwide. Encouraging use of reusable bags is a major way grocers to encourage sustainability. Some retailers achieve this by paying consumers to bring their own grocery bags, or offering a certain discount per reusable bag, as well as selling branded reusable bags in-store. The pandemic has unfortunately slowed many nation-wide rollouts of plastic bag bans, but the move toward reduced plastic can start with the customer choosing to use sustainable grocery bags. In-store signage encouraging customers to bring their own bags can help achieve this; or word-of-mouth advertising through employees. The individual impact of saving plastic by using reusable bags may seem negligible; but, often, the smallest personal changes can lead to the largest impact in habits, which, ultimately, can become a lifelong consciousness about sustainable practices.
Encouraging Smart Shopping & Personal Responsibility
A lifelong consciousness about sustainable practices often starts at home. Reminding customers that they can do their individual part is a critical aspect of promoting sustainability. Consider again Procter & Gamble’s It’s Our Home campaign, which highlights how meaningful sustainable change can begin with each individual. Large CPG manufacturers like P&G have a certain responsibility to examine their own complicity in non-sustainable practices, including their own energy and waste outputs, and the environmental impact of the products they produce. Addressing these challenges through innovation and an eye on the future, companies can also encourage their customers to take individual action.
Seeing a retailer believe in the power of sustainable change can encourage consumers to do their own part. In a study they conducted, P&G found that nearly 80% of consumers expect the brands they buy to support a more environmentally conscious lifestyle—but it can often feel like the “little” steps toward a more whole-heartedly sustainable lifestyle don’t make that big of an impact. Educating consumers on company initiatives while also educating them on what they can do as an individual to live less of an environmental impact can create a cycle of responsibility that begins with the individual and extends outward.
Advertisements and content that present real data in visually-appealing graphics are a sure-fire way to engage a consumer in information they might otherwise not seek on their own. Statistics will, at the very least, get a consumer thinking about how they fit into the percentages—and how they might go on to make their own contribution to the data. Don’t underestimate the power of offering or displaying statistical evidence on the individual impact of sustainability; even if it just changes the mind of one single customer, that change may see an unimaginable ripple effect well into the future.
Being transparent and delivering on sustainability promises not only attracts consumers, but rewards retailers with loyalty with rates of about 94%. Beyond company ethics and commitment to sustainability, providing consumers with a tangible roadmap to such commitment will pay off in the long run. Signage, incentivisation, and education are all great ways to promote a retailer’s participation in sustainable practices; and, in turn, can motivate individual consumers to take up their own part in the cause for a more sustainable future.
To learn more about sustainability in grocery and consumer trends in 2020 and beyond, download our e-book report on a 2020 Consumer Survey, Taking Stock of 2020: What Grocery Retailers Need to Know About Post-Pandemic Consumer Trends. In this e-book, you will learn about:
- Changes in Consumer Behavior: COVID-19
- Embracing the Future of Omnichannel Shopping
- Sustainability: What Consumers Expect & How Retailers Can Meet Expectations
- In-Store Shopping vs. Online Shopping: How the Management of Expired Foods Impacts the Consumer Experience