The “green” revolution: Are consumers buying it?

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 2nd October 2008

New findings suggest that many customers concerned with the environment are not following through by purchasing environmentally friendly products.

Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), a leading global provider of consumer, shopper, and market insights for consumer packaged goods (CPG), retail, and healthcare industries, has revealed new findings from a study based on TNS’ Shades of Green Segmentation, which highlight distinct variations in buying behaviors even among those consumers who claim to be concerned with the environment.  An analysis of numerous “green” product purchases across a variety of categories revealed significant disparity in how well environmentally conscious consumers actually follow their convictions by purchasing environmentally friendly products.

Leveraging its partnership with TNS – a global market information and insight group, the IRI study uses TNS’ Shades of Green, a consumer segmentation approach that was generated from a comprehensive global environmental survey of thousands of individuals. By analyzing survey responses, TNS segmented consumers into eight distinct attitudinal segments based upon environmental concerns. IRI then linked the attitudes that individuals have toward the environment with their actual CPG shopping and purchasing behavior to determine whether “concerned” individuals actually follow through by purchasing environmentally sound products.

“This analysis proves not only the efficacy of the Shades of Green segments in defining consumers to target, but also the undeniable importance of green positioning to manufacturers and retailers,” IRI President of Consumer and Shopper Insights, Robert I. Tomei, claimed.  “Eighty-two per cent of the population claims to make going green a priority, but as this data proves, the behaviours of those consumers vary drastically.  While certain ‘green’ conscious consumers do make a concerted effort to buy ‘green’ products, there are certain segments of the population that are environmentally sensitive but that does not necessarily translate into their actual behavior.  This inconsistency is the real challenge for marketers and retailers in order for them to fully understand the nuances of green consumers and how to market to them effectively.”

“Given some of the obvious issues that consumers face in today’s market, such as high gas prices, higher unemployment rates, and concerns over the financial investment community, it will be increasingly more challenging for many consumers to incorporate their sensitivity to the environment into their actual behavior, particularly for those ‘green’ products that may cost more to purchase,” Mr Tomei concluded.

Green Earth

The analysis reveals that despite containing individuals who claim eco-friendly beliefs, two key environmental attitudinal consumer segments-the “Eco-Centrics” and the “Eco-Chic”-show extremely different behavioral patterns related to green product purchases.

While Eco-Centric consumers have shown a willingness to change their buying behavior and a commitment to use of environmentally-friendly products, the Eco-Chic segment, comprised of younger, more trend-influenced consumers, appears more interested in riding the wave of environmental consciousness by claiming to embrace environmental concerns, but not following through with their dollars.

Eco-Chic consumers did show a willingness to try some green products at a comparable rate to the Eco-Centrics, but unlike the Eco-Centrics, the Eco-Chic consumers ultimately returned to their favourite non-green brands. For example, the Eco-Chic group was quick to purchase products from a recently launched eco-friendly household cleaning line, but their repeat rates for the same products were well below the general population average. In addition, when asked to choose between taste and perceived quality versus environmental friendliness, they ultimately chose the former as seen by lower than average purchasing of eco-friendly food and beauty items in categories, such as cereal, milk, oral care, and skin care.

In contrast, the Eco-Centric segment, comprised of high-income, educated urbanites actively doing their part to protect and improve the environment, truly appears to follow through on their environmental beliefs with purchases of eco-friendly products.  In 15 of 16 eco-friendly product groups analyzed, the Eco-Centrics tried products at a rate above the general population.  Their willingness to try eco-friendly products spans from their food and beverage purchases, including cereal, yogurt, and milk, to their personal care and cleaning product purchases, including oral care, skin care, and laundry detergent. Importantly, they continued to purchase these eco-friendly products, illustrating their long-term environmental commitment.

In terms of retail shopping, the Eco-Centrics were more likely than average to shop in Trader Joe’s (an American neighbourhood grocery store) and the club store outlet, the latter possibly an attempt to save gas by combining needs into a larger stock-up trip. They also shop pet specialty outlets, extending their eco-consciousness to their pets though purchases of eco-friendly pet food and pet care items, such as dog and cat food.

Eco-Centric and Eco-Chic consumers also differ outside of product purchasing, with a significant disparity in their health attitudes revealed by responses to the IRI MedProfiler Health and Wellness Survey.

Unlike the Eco-Chic segment, the Eco-Centrics read nutrition labels, are concerned with ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup and trans-fatty acids, and avoid refined and processed foods. They practice healthy habits, such as eating organic foods, whole grains, omega-3 and antioxidant rich foods, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.  This segment is also more likely to be on a vegetarian, gluten-free, high- fiber, low-fat, low-salt, or low-sugar diet.

On the other hand, Eco-Chic consumers are much less concerned about their health across the board.  Although they are less likely to practice any kind of diet, read nutritional labels, or engage in healthy habits, they generally feel they are doing enough to stay healthy. They also indulge in fast food more than the general population.

The intriguing discoveries outline the gulfs between different segments of consumers and highlight the care businesses need to take when updating their practices to help the environment.

A recent global study, conducted by TNS, found Australians were very keen to ‘go green’ but many were not yet willing to sacrifice greatly to do so. The cost of going ‘green’ was considered the greatest barrier for Australians, according to the study.

Essentially, success revolves around a value offering that offers more than just a low carbon footprint. Price and product quality are still key drivers and outweigh the desire to go ‘green’ for many consumers.

The TNS report did, however, note that the green trend is not a fad. It is likely to become even more important over coming years and businesses need to find ways to adapt.

With regard to food and beverage products it was discovered that organic was often associated with ‘green’ and the popularity of organic products is therefore anticipated to continue to grow.

For more information about the TNS Global Shades of Green Study and to view the full report, please visit: tns-us.com/greenlife/.