Shoppers say sustainability initiatives influence what brands they buy, but most don't notice these claims on product packaging, according to a new study from QuadPackaging and Package Insight. For the study, researchers had people "shop" at Clemson University's retail lab using a mobile eye-tracking system that showed which on-pack information drew shopper attention.
While 53% of study participants said a simple rating system on products affects their buying decisions, and more than 40% noted that sustainability influences their purchases, 92% didn't notice sustainability logos on food packaging.
"These results are not surprising if you take into account the barrage of logos, seals and stamps found on consumer package goods claiming some form of sustainability," Paul Nowak, senior director of sales strategy and business development at QuadPackaging, said in a release. "Consumers have become numb to all the messaging on packaging which hinders the penetration of sustainability claims."
Shoppers are more interested in mission-based brands than ever before, and sustainability is an issue that's at the top of consumer wish lists. But, as this study shows, that purported interest isn't enough to overcome the information overload shoppers face when perusing the grocery aisles.
An ever-growing number of seals and symbols are cropping up on U.S. foods and beverages. They may certify that an item is organic, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, kosher, halal, not tested on animals, non-GMO, non-allergenic, produced under humane or fair labor conditions or that the packaging is compostable or recyclable.
It's no wonder consumers become confused about what the symbols mean or overwhelmed by the sheer number and ignore the message they're meant to convey. According to Label Insight research from its 2017 Ingredient Confusion Study, only one-third of Americans really understands the meaning behind various packaging claims.
These new study findings also may confound food makers trying to educate consumers about their efforts to source healthier products, limit water and energy use, adopt more environmentally friendly packaging and reduce food waste. Food and beverage manufacturers might consider finding other ways to get their sustainable product messages across than just relying on labeling.
It may make sense for food manufacturers to tout their sustainability efforts online, in retail stores, on social media and in advertising circulars using an integrated marketing approach. More consumers are likely to see the information through those channels.
On-pack sustainability claims are still important despite the findings of this study. According to Nielsen, the more food makers show their commitment to these issues, the more likely consumers are to buy their products. In addition, having the symbols and seals there for the consumers who do notice them could determine whether a product makes it to checkout or not.
For now, it's a smart move for manufactures to tout their sustainability efforts on the package even if only a fraction of shoppers notice them. QuadPackaging and Package InSight suggested companies focus more on integrated marketing campaigns to educate customers about the efforts they are making and what their sustainability claims mean. Becoming sustainable could be the easy part for these companies, while getting the lion's share of the public to be aware of what they've done could be the real obstacle.