An insight into the green consumer for the grocery sector

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 4th May 2009

More and more shoppers are demonstrating an active consideration of environmental sustainability characteristics in their buying decisions, according to a new study released by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Deloitte. But, while most shoppers are often thinking green, many are not following through as green products are purchased on just 22 per cent of their shopping trips.

“This study marries two of the consumer product industry’s top priorities: meeting the needs of consumers and reducing our environmental footprint,” said Elliott Penner, Reckitt Benckiser president of food products and GMA Sustainability Task Force leader. “Understanding consumer expectations and shopping behaviour are critical to the development of the industry’s overall strategy on environmental sustainability.”

The research established soaring demand for sustainable products, but education is required to further stimulate sales.

“We found that for most shoppers, sustainable considerations are an important tie-breaker when deciding between two otherwise equal products and they are a driver in product switching,” said Brian Lynch, GMA director of sales and sales promotion. “But it’s not enough to just put green products on the shelf. We have to better educate consumers and leverage in-store communication to make the sale.”

Most shoppers surveyed, 95 per cent, are open to considering green products, 67 per cent of shoppers looked for green products, only 47 per cent actually found them and 22 per cent purchased some green products on their shopping trip – highlighting the need for better shopper marketing programs to close the gap.

Supermarket aisle - shopping trolley

Sometimes concerns about product performance and credibility of the environmental claims are the reasons shoppers opt not to buy green products, but more often communication and product education are the biggest obstacles. The study also found that a significant minority of committed and proactive green shoppers will pay a premium for sustainable products; however, the larger potential population of shoppers that lean toward green want price and performance parity for sustainable products because it is not their dominant purchase driver.

“Sustainable product characteristics are emerging as an important brand differentiator, but to capture the potential market value of green shoppers, retailers and manufacturers must do a better job of communicating the sustainable attributes behind the products to show the value of buying green to the shopper,” Scott Bearse, Director and Retail Leader of Deloitte LLP’s Enterprise Sustainability group, advised.

Demographically, green shoppers were found to be diversely spread along all income ranges, age brackets, education levels and various household sizes although, on average, they tend to be older, have higher income and are more educated. Sustainable consumers are also seen to represent a key high value segment that buy more products on each trip and visit the store more regularly. They are also less price sensitive than the average shopper and are generally not bargain hunters.

“Consistent, aligned messaging in stores, online and at other touch points will be essential to converting shoppers from simply being interested in green to buying green,” Mr Bearse concluded.

More than 6,400 shopper intercept interviews were conducted for the survey, which is the basis of a larger GMA-Deloitte report titled Finding the Green in Today’s Shoppers: Sustainability Trends and New Shopper Insights.