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Using packaging to meet the consumer's growing ethical concerns

When it comes to making a purchase, factors such as appearance, taste or convenience are no longer the only things considered. Purchasing choices have become ethical and political issues.

Due to the impact that these ethical and green concerns are having on the purchasing decisions of consumers, it is therefore crucial for retailers to respond to this in order to secure and maintain their loyalty.

Packaging is an effective way for brands to address these concerns as it can help to engage, inform and reassure consumers when it comes to the supplier’s ethical practices.

‘Clean’ labels featuring ethical, natural and environmentally friendly statements are an essential requirement, and those who neglect to comply will suffer the consequences.  

This was evidenced in a recent study [1]entitled ‘The Future of Sustainable Packaging to 2018’ which concluded that the issue of sustainable packaging will continue to grow in importance over the decade to 2023 and is forecasted to become the number one challenge facing companies (outweighing other factors such as cost).

How can brands use packaging to meet the consumers growing ethical concerns?

Minimising wastage

As ‘Zero waste’ has become a noticeable sub-tribe within the eco movement, there has been a huge consumer lead shift towards minimising the amount of packaging used by retailers in recent years.  

In the UK, for example, Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to ban all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042, and has instructed that all supermarkets introduce a plastic-free aisle.[2] Taxes and charges on single-use plastic items like food containers are also set to be implemented.

Large brands such as Coco-cola, Nestle, Cadbury and PepsiCo have responded to this growing consumer trend by opting for sustainable packaging materials, thus enabling them to gain competitive advantage over other market players.

Burt’s bees

An example of a smaller player using their packaging to address the consumer’s growing ethical concerns is ‘personal care’ brand Burt’s Bees. One of the key reasons the company has experienced such high levels of success is due to their ethical activities and initiatives, such as their responsible sourcing of natural ingredients. The brand uses their packaging to reinforce these initiatives and has endeavoured to achieve complete complete transparency and sustainability since their launch.

Paula Alexander, director of sustainable business at Burt’s Bees [3] stresses that the most eye catching and attractive beauty products packaging aren’t always the most sustainable. She states that for them “it comes down to using fewer materials, making it recyclable and putting more recycled material into our packaging.’.

The company has reaped the benefits of enforcing high natural standards and have pledged that their product formulas and packaging will be one hundred percent sustainable by 2020.

The Fair trade Movement

Back in 2015, confectionary giant Mars help to overcome the growing distrust for ‘Big Food’ companies  (larger, global food producers) by announcing that all the cocoa used their the manufacturing of their chocolate products will be Fair-trade certified. By proudly displaying the Fair-trade mark on their packaging near their list of ingredients, consumers are immediately aware of their Fair Trade cocoa sourcing initiatives.

Recognising that customers tend to display more loyalty to Fair Trade products, UK supermarket chain Waitrose announced in 2017 that 46 private label tea products Fair-trade certified. Waitrose currently stock 250 Fair Trade- certified products, which significantly impacted Fair Trade retail sales last year, which grew 2.5% in [4]volume.

Be it a large or small company, consumers consciences are focused on the ethics and provenance of the products they purchase, therefore using packaging to clearly display their Fair Trade initiatives should be considered a vital part of successful marketing campaigns.

Ultimately, as the consumers’ awareness of what is going into food and the impact that production has on the environment continues to rise, their ethical concerns are only set to intensify. Addressing this through product packaging is therefore a key, effective way for retailers and brands to reassure and address these concerns whilst achieving and maintaining long-term customer loyalty.