Perception Research Services has been conducting shopper research for the past four years that tracks what shoppers say and do with regard to packaging and the environment. Our latest findings reveal a growing desire to select environmentally friendly packaging, along with increasing frustrations about how to do so.

Last year witnessed a rise in the proportion of shoppers wanting to choose environmentally friendly packaging, and despite the economy, fully half said they are willing to pay more for such packaging. This is especially true of younger shoppers (those under 40).

Fortunately, environmental claims on packaging abound. In fact, for the past two years, a majority of shoppers reported seeing more environmental claims when shopping for grocery products. In addition, over half of our sample reported that seeing such claims positively impacts their buying behavior.
Of the various claims seen, those having to do with recycling (recyclable, made from recycled material) are both noticed most and have the most impact on buying behavior. Conversely, the made with less material claim is less influential.

Claim Impact

In order to understand more specifically which environmental claims work well on packaging, we conducted a separate study last year assessing eight different claims that exist on various national and regional brands of bottled water. We evaluated these claims in terms of how meaningful they are to shoppers, as well as how noticeable they are on pack (using PRS Eye-Tracking).

We learned that while “100% recyclable” was the most meaningful message, it was the least noticeable, by far (seen by only 4% of shoppers). None of the claims were seen by more than 30% of shoppers (meaning 70% or more did not see the claims). In addition, many of the claims — such as Plant Based, Eco-Shaped and 1% for the planet — were not at all meaningful to shoppers.

Of course, stating that a package is recyclable will only be truly meaningful if shoppers do, in fact, recycle their packaging. In our tracking survey, two-thirds said they recycle packaging on a regular basis – and last year we saw a rise in the proportion of shoppers checking to see if a package can be recycled prior to buying it.

Remembering to Recycle

Notably, those who do not recycle said that the single biggest reason they don’t is because they forget to do so. This suggests that messaging could serve as a useful reminder. Encouraging more recycling would also help bridge the gap between shoppers’ stated concern for the environment (66% very/somewhat concerned) and their level of activity in helping the environment (46% very/somewhat active).

Helping consumers to remember to recycle at home fits nicely with recent efforts on the part of several CPG companies in the United States to assume the costs of recycling their packaging after use – known as “extended producer responsibility”. These efforts include setting up recycling collection bins at retailers such as O Boticario, or supermarket Pao de Açucar here in Brazil.

Esses esforços incluem a criação de caixas de coleta de reciclagem em lojas como acontece aqui no Brasil nas lojas do  O Boticário, ou em supermercados, como o Pão de Açúcar por exemplo.

The reclaimed packaging is re-made into a similar product container or transformed for some other purpose — such as toothbrushes and razors from plastic yogurt cups, or napkins from paper coffee cups. (Read also our interview with Terra Cycle)

Crafting Messages

As most CPG companies are developing various kinds of “sustainability” plans for packaging (reducing the amount of material used, using recycled content and/or recyclable or renewable materials), it will be important to educate (or at a minimum, inform) them about the efforts that have been made so they are able to match their purchasing actions with their environmental goals.

In addition to providing meaningful alternatives in terms of products and packages that truly provide environmental benefits, manufacturers can help shoppers by crafting appropriate messages that reassure (e.g., “still 16 oz.”), inform (e.g., “made from 30% recycled content”) and encourage (“100% recyclable”). The execution of the message is also crucial. The message must be visible. If it goes unseen, then all of the efforts to provide environmental benefits could be for naught.

Shoppers really do want to help the environment but they need help to do so effectively and consistently. While they will not compromise functionality, they are willing to pay a bit more for environmentally friendly packaging as long as they understand which packages are better for the environment and are reminded of steps they can take.

By creating eco-friendly packaging that delivers benefits that shoppers care about, understand, and will make use of, companies will ultimately reduce waste and lessen the carbon footprint. And that’s something that Mother Earth could be proud of!

Jonathan Asher is senior vice president at Perception Research Services (PRS), a leading packaging research firm. He manages major client relationships such as Target, Hershey and Kimberly-Clark, to name a few, overseeing both qualitative and quantitative studies. Asher has more than 25 years’ experience in both marketing research and brand design for consumer packaged goods