Making Sustainability Visible in Your Grocery Stores

11. Blog Banner

The consumer of the future—and the consumer of now—cares about sustainability, and wants to see it in practice and in action. In 2020, Date Check Pro asked a set of consumers whether or not their primary grocery store had sustainability programs in place (that they were aware of), and how they learned about said programs. Interestingly, 51.4% of respondents answered that yes, their primary grocer has a sustainability program in place; meaning the other 48.6% said no, there was no program of which they were aware. In our own research, we discovered that in truth, 85% of the grocery stores shopped at by respondents had some sort of sustainability program in place. What contributing factors may have resulted in this discrepancy? Grocery stores with sustainability initiatives want consumers to be aware of them—how can  retailers avoid this confusion?

Grocers understand the importance of physical and digital ads. The same principles that apply to product advertising should apply to sustainability advertising: Where product ads may focus on sales and value while appealing to customer loyalty and lifestyle, sustainability visibility can do the same. Sustainability initiatives appeal to consumers who care about sustainable practices in their own life and in venues where they spend their time and money. A grocer showing a visible commitment to sustainability will keep consumers engaged, and returning. 

How Consumers Become Aware of Sustainability Initiatives

As we discussed in a recent blog, 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. One section of our 2020 survey asked what type of physical or digital advertisements would alert a consumer to the existence of a sustainability program (figure 1). In-store signage, social media, and TV ads topped the results, as might be expected. 

How did you learn about sustainability campaigns at your primary grocery store?

Figure 1

The in-store shopping experience is perhaps the most immediate and critical place for a consumer to encounter sustainability. Making sustainable products obvious, utilizing ecolabels, and displaying in-store reminders or incentives for using reusable bags at checkout are all fairly simple ways to increase sustainable visibility. Advertising through social media, TV, and radio ads remain high on the list as well, and these venues can be strong audiovisual methods of communicating sustainability. Social media in particular offers a versatile landscape in which to innovate and play with making sustainability visual.

Remember: A sustainable retailer benefits the planet, the consumer, and the business. Not only do sustainable practices save money and the environment, but visible and clear practices increase the chances of a consumer remaining loyal to a brand.

How Some Grocers & CPGs Are Making Sustainability Visible

Promotion and education of sustainability programs will allow grocery retailers the full value and return on sustainable efforts—both in profit, loyalty, and environmental impact. Let’s take a look at how some grocers and CPGs are making sustainability visible to consumers. 

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s is known for their bold, colorful, and inviting in-store signage. Something that sets this grocer apart in terms of displaying sustainability is what consumers can learn from such signage. Hand-painted murals, signs, and shelf labels throughout the store might educate consumers on where a product comes from, information or facts on the product’s nutrition, ingredients, and sourcing, or suggest ways to use the product in a recipe. The visual appeal of the signs make them difficult to ignore—and with such a fun way to advertise, why not use it to promote sustainability? Trader Joe’s strives to be a leader in organic and ethically-sourced grocery—and consumers that care about sustainability will take in this information at a higher success rate when it’s displayed right in front of them in a pleasing way. 

The grocer also has a podcast called Inside Trader Joe’s that gives listeners a bite-sized look into different topics in each episode; the 11th episode of which is focused on sustainability. Different modes of media advertising—especially a medium like the podcast, which goes beyond the visual of social media, and is easy to access, download, and listen to—can make a grocer stand out. Podcasts, videos, and webinars are all unique mediums to make sustainability efforts visible—and, in this case, audible. 

Sprouts Farmers Market

In Sprouts Farmers Market’s 2020 ESG report, the grocer reported that transitioning from physical print ads to digital ads was not only a smart environmental move, but increased the chances of reaching their customers through advertisements: 

“In 2020, we reevaluated how we communicate with customers as part of our long-term growth strategy and transitioned from print ads to digital. This transition not only improved our connection to our customers, but also eliminated more than 15,000 tons of paper and averted 60,000 MTCO2e.” 

Consider the Instagram post below: A screencap from a short video posted on Earth Day, captioned with a concise statement on Sprouts’s commitment to the planet and local communities. Recalling that 25.3% of respondents in our 2020 survey listed social media as the way they discovered sustainability initiatives at their primary grocer. This type of advertisement should not be underestimated. While emphasizing a sustainability program can (and should!) happen everyday, enhancing visibility through the added impact of Earth Day was a good way for Sprouts Farmers Market to highlight their ongoing sustainability practices with a simple, appealing visual.

Sprouts Graphic

In the same 2020 ESG report, Sprout’s also reported on their efforts to reduce their single-use plastics output by encouraging and incentivizing reusable grocery bags: 

“In most of our major markets we continue to encourage our customers to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags by providing a $0.05 credit for every reusable bag used at checkout. This incentive has resulted in more than 15 million reusable bags used at checkout in 2020 and nearly $800,000 in reusable bag credits given back to our customers.”

Incentivizing reusable grocery bags is a subtle, but effective, way to advertise sustainability through in-store signage and even word-of-mouth at checkout. A store that pays the customer to be sustainable is a store that actively cares about what kind of materials are or are not good for the environment. As Sprouts’s output proves, the money saved to consumers and the resulting reduction of one-use plastic bags is well-worth efforts to advertise such incentives and educate consumers on why reusable bags make a small but strong sustainable impact.

Procter & Gamble

Sustainability campaigns might consider focusing on how a consumer, their habits, and the retailers they frequent contribute to an overall sustainable lifestyle. Take the Procter & Gamble Good Everyday rewards program and their recent It’s Our Home campaign. Centering the campaign on both individual and collective responsibility allows a consumer to visualize themself as part of the change, while at the same time feeling good about shopping with a brand that cares enough to practice sustainable change. 

It’s Our Home is a dynamic and visual campaign. Consider this tweet featuring a 30-second clip from the It’s Our Home short film, in which a little girl named Louisa encourages any “earthingling” listening to take care of the planet they call home, for their sake as well as hers. Emphasizing a child’s perspective begs a question of the future when it comes to sustainability: Being responsible and intentional now will leave a better planet for future generations. The campaign also hones in on personal responsibility, pointing out that even simple lifestyle choices such as what brand of laundry detergent one buys can make an impact on the environment. P&G uses the campaign to highlight their sustainability actions as a company, and how they are eager for consumers of their products to also reflect a commitment to planet-saving actions. 

It’s Our Home is a prime example of a campaign that uses company values of sustainability to encourage a consumer to be a part of the change. Grocers can learn from the CPGs like Procter & Gamble, and employ sustainability campaigns on a smaller scale. Emphasizing health and wellness both in humans and the planet can always benefit from being future-focused: Let’s be sustainable now, and teach others how to make sustainability a life-long practice.

Sustainability Affects Today’s Consumers’ Buying Habits

Keep an eye out for a future e-book on sustainability in grocery, and how retailers are both changing and innovating the game when it comes to sustainable action. In the meantime, begin learning about how sustainability affects consumer trends in 2020 and beyond by downloading 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 

Download the Report