An overwhelming majority of consumers in the US now prioritize social and environmental responsibility in food businesses, according to new data from American food and grocery shoppers. Results of the study showed that an increasing number of people are actively switching to brands that offer perceived sustainability benefits.
In its 2023 US Brand Sustainability Benchmark Report, Glow incorporated survey data from 33,000 US consumers surveyed between April and December 2022, as well as product data and consumer panel insights from NielsenIQ.
Research Company Glow & NielsonIQ Collaborate on 8-Month Study
Glow is a research technology company that offers support software for businesses to conduct high-quality consumer research quickly. This empowers businesses to make informed decisions that support their growth, customers, stakeholders, and planet. As a proud member of the ‘data for good’ movement, Glow uses its technology to produce the largest syndicated ESG/sustainability brand tracker, Social Responsibility Score (SRS). This measures 600 brands in three markets and enables brands to benchmark consumer perception of their ESG performance over time, audiences, markets, and competitors.
In collaboration with NielsenIQ, a global information services company, Glow provides businesses with clear and complete product insights that unlock new pathways to growth aligned with consumer values and lifestyles.
By combining data from Glow’s proprietary research studies with NielsenIQ’s product insights, this report provides businesses with valuable information to help them understand and meet consumer needs, optimize performance, and drive growth.
Millennials and Gen Z Prioritize Sustainability
70% of consumers now perceive environmental responsibility as “more important” compared to two years ago, while over half said sustainability is “very important”. Over 90% of consumers see eco-friendliness as a key deciding factor in their food purchases.
Moreover, the report found that 64% of consumers in the US are willing to pay steeper prices for products that have a social impact, such as providing support for communities and causes that help vulnerable groups. Additionally, nearly 8 in 10 said that they are more loyal and likely to make repeat purchases from these “purpose-driven” brands.
When it comes to sustainability, the main issues that consumers take note of when making food and grocery decisions include emissions reduction, protection of natural resources, and wildlife conservation.
It’s worth noting that the importance of sustainability is sharper among younger shoppers. While one-third of all Americans believe it is “very important” for brands to behave responsibly, the figure rises to 40% among Gen Z and millennials. In fact, the latter group now ranks ESG concerns among their top 3 purchase drivers, with 10% of millennials placing this factor as their number one issue, ahead of product price and quality.
What’s Next for the Food and Grocery Industry?
The Price Barrier to Sustainable Products for Consumers
While consumers become increasingly aware of the impact of their purchasing decisions on the planet, many are starting to factor in sustainability when making their choices. However, despite this growing trend, the cost of sustainable products remains a major barrier for many, especially in lower-income areas.
As reported in the study, 70% of US consumers are actively seeking out cheaper alternatives when it comes to their food and grocery purchases. This trend is not limited to just one product department either, with the majority of shoppers reportedly switching out most or all of the items in their baskets.
Despite this, there are some products that consumers are still willing to invest in, regardless of price. Baby care, for example, is a category where consumers are less likely to compromise on quality, despite the increased cost. This is likely due to the importance consumers place on transparency and safety within this department.
Half of US shoppers have changed their purchasing habits based on a brand’s ESG practices
The analysts discovered, ‘standing for something’ is a key factor in today’s competitive market. Consumers are looking for brands that align with their values, particularly when it comes to ESG issues. Interestingly, the research reveals that half of US shoppers have changed their purchasing habits based on a brand’s ESG practices. This is in line with Ipsos’ Global Trends 2021 report which found, “Across all 25 countries surveyed, an average 70% of respondents say they buy from brands they believe reflect their own principles. Again, this trend is particularly strong in some emerging markets, including Nigeria, China, Kenya, and the Philippines, where around nine in 10 respondents expressed this view.”
Glow’s SRS (Sustainability Ranking System) found that the top ESG-performing F&G brands are gaining new customers at twice the rate of other brands. As consumers become increasingly price-conscious, it’s crucial for brands to offer compelling reasons for customers to stick with them. Mike Johnston, managing director of data products at Glow, points out that all consumers are looking for ways to save money. Therefore, brands need to communicate their value proposition effectively.
One effective way for brands to differentiate themselves is through on-pack messaging. According to Sherry Frey, VP of Total Wellness at NielsenIQ, consumers want to see credible information about a brand’s sustainability efforts. This information can be communicated through on-pack messaging, as well as through digital discovery on retailer sites. By doing this, brands can establish themselves as sustainability leaders and achieve growth.
“The largest opportunity gap for brands in the US F&G industry exists in the environmental drivers”
Despite F&G’s efforts to promote sustainability, the gap between the industry’s actions and consumer expectations is still significant. This gap presents a substantial opportunity for brands to meet consumer demands and enhance their reputation. The report highlights that focusing on environmental drivers can be a game-changer for brands. Consequently, brands need to make significant improvements in their emissions reduction, climate change, and wildlife protection efforts.
Additionally, supplier welfare in the governance sphere of ESG is another area that requires significant attention. Brands that can address these areas effectively can establish themselves as sustainability leaders and win over environmentally conscious consumers.