- Consumers care about sustainability now as much as ever, according to new survey data from Nielsen. Almost half of U.S. consumers (48%) are likely to change what they buy to meet environmental standards.
- Nielsen reported that Americans spent $128.5 million on sustainable fast-moving consumer goods — a 20% growth in sustainable product sales. Nielsen expects the market to continue to grow rapidly and predicts that consumers will spend up to $150 billion on sustainable products by 2021.
- Products that meet certain measures of sustainability are replacing conventional items on grocery store shelves nationwide. Millennial consumers have driven the shift — younger shoppers are more than twice as likely to make choices based on environmental impact, according to the data.
The trend toward consumers wanting eco-friendly, sustainable and environmentally conscious products has cemented itself in recent years. Consumers consider the environmental implications of what they eat far more than the generations before them, according to this new data. More than just a tasty snack or crisp vegetable, they want to know that what they're eating aligns with sustainable values.
Millennials are the driving force behind the shift toward sustainable products. Not only do consumers ages 21-34 want eco-conscious products, they also have an easier time finding and talking about them because of technology and social media.
"The generational divide in sustainability is fueled by technology. We've found that sustainable shoppers in the U.S. are 67% more likely to be digitally engaged, which means they are used to having the products and knowledge they want right at their fingertips," Sarah Schmansky, the vice president of Fresh/H&W Growth & Strategy at Nielsen, said in the report.
For major brands, developing and reporting on sustainability goals around their practices is no longer optional. Consumers expect some degree of transparency. Whether buying beer, beef jerky or water, they want information about what they're buying and how it aligns with their values. And companies have made an effort to accommodate that. Nestlé, for example, has focused on water conservation, while AB In-Bev has focused on local watershed restoration projects and a transition to renewable energy. For Field Trip Jerky, a six-year-old meat snack manufacturer, transitioning to a grass-fed beef rotation model for the meat it uses in its products has been instrumental to its growth.
And the trend extends beyond the food itself: manufacturers are figuring out how to design packaging to meet demands and expectations of environmentally conscious consumers. No longer satisfied with the plastics and foils that fill grocery store shelves, many consumers want to see approaches that respond to their concerns — without sacrificing on convenience. Beverage manufacturers, for example, are exploring a host of options, from glass to box cartons. It's much the same as healthy snacks. Consumers want products they can eat on the go that deliver maximum health benefits and minimal environmental or social consequence.
From 2013 to 2017, the sustainable packaging CAGR increased 26%. Mintel called the current attitude toward plastic packaging a "seismic shift." Its own reporting predicts that overall, consumers will drive companies to adopt more bio-based and biodegradable materials.
Brands continue to scramble to meet ever-higher consumer expectations as the market for sustainable products grows. Meanwhile, the U.S. sits in the middle on the global food sustainability index so there could be ample room for improvement. Although Nielsen said that it was the year of the influential sustainable consumer, the research firm said "it's soon to be the decade of the sustainable shopper."
"In a limited store growth environment, U.S. consumers continue to choose sustainable products over conventional options, making sustainability a consistent growth opportunity for manufacturers," the report said.