Consumer brands get it: Sustainable packaging matters. According to the Consumer Brands Association, the 25 largest consumer packaged goods companies have made commitments to increase recyclable content, minimize packaging or reuse material. And 80 percent of those companies are working toward fully recyclable packaging for all their products.
“By 2030, a number of the world's largest CPG companies are saying, ‘we're going to redesign all of our packaging and it will all be totally recyclable,’ " says Meghan Stasz, Consumer Brands Association vice president of packaging and sustainability.
That kind of transformation doesn’t come cheap. So why are consumer brands so willing to make a commitment that will likely add costs and time to their product development strategies?
Leading by example
There are several drivers for more sustainable practices. First, leading brands are willing to take a stand on sustainability because, “It's just the right thing to do,” says Stasz. Early adopters of sustainability have cemented their place in the minds of consumers and continue to reap the rewards in terms of brand awareness.
SurveyMonkey conducted a study of 1,097 U.S. consumers (see methodology below), using SurveyMonkey Market Research Solutions and asked them about their sustainability beliefs and buying habits. Respondents ranked Burt's Bees, Toms and Patagonia as the top three brands that take positive actions to protect the environment. These companies have based their brand DNA on sustainability from the very start, and continue to reap the benefits.
If consumers care, leading brands act
Another key driver of CPG sustainability is good old-fashioned know-thy-customer responsiveness: Consumers increasingly care about environmental issues and choose brands that reflect their beliefs.
According to our study, 44% of consumers say they care about environmental issues much more today than they did a year ago. What’s more, nearly 8 in 10 have made purchase decisions based on their values in the past year.
“Does consumer sentiment drive what consumer packaged goods companies do?” asks Stasz. “Absolutely. CPG industry brands are very responsive to consumer demands, consumer concerns and what consumers view as important.”
Keeping pace with the market
However, sustainability practices are in constant flux, creating a challenge for consumer brands. For example, since today’s strained recycling systems can’t process all the glass, plastic and metal waste, CPG companies have moved to compostable packaging.
Only 4% of U.S. consumers say they are not confused by their recycling system, according to Stasz. Is it worth the effort to shift from recyclable to compostable packaging for a customer base who may not understand the value?
Our study says “yes.” When asked about their preferred choices of packaging, consumers ranked recyclable fourth behind reusable, compostable and recycled packaging — all more current and meaningful standards for sustainability.
So, how can CPG brands stay ahead of the sustainability curve, the competition and customer demands? And, how can they help their brands evolve to keep up with consumers’ values and beliefs?
“Sustainability is a journey, not a destination,” says Stasz. “There's not an end point for any company or even individuals' sustainability efforts.”
That doesn’t mean one can’t try. Green initiatives, like compostable packaging or sustainability messaging, can have a big impact on brand health. And market research solutions, like brand tracking, can help brands see a correlation between how sustainability initiatives can improve brand performance over time.
Brand trackers: a new approach
Brand tracking has traditionally been a slow-moving process that can cost millions of dollars, and can take months to produce static, sometimes quickly outdated reports. It typically provides a rearview mirror view versus a current understanding based on periodic measurement.
Today’s consumer brands need a more agile approach. New technologies, such as SurveyMonkey’s Brand Tracker, give companies the ability to continuously measure brand performance and tap into consumer sentiment whenever they need it. Today, brands can track their vitals on a variety of metrics — from awareness to reputation and purchase consideration — and spot changes in real time.
In addition, today brands can customize their trackers and collect data on the specific attributes that relate to company sustainability goals. By creating a “pick-list” of aspirational traits (like “sustainable” or “cares about the environment”), or by asking consumers to agree or disagree with attitudinal statements, brands can track the attributes they care about, and include questions about their sustainability initiatives.
These new techniques offer brands up-to-the-minute insights into brand health, and can gauge the effectiveness of brand campaigns and initiatives, and how their investments in sustainability are hitting the mark with consumers.
What’s the pay off?
The long-term benefits of brand tracking help measure whether your brand and values resonate with target consumers and trickle down into awareness, preference, and ultimately, loyalty. When used in conjunction with other market research tools, such as concept testing or attitudinal studies, brand tracking can be even more powerful.
For example, technology exists that can help companies define their top consumer segments, what they care about, how they shop and the best way to get their attention. Collecting these insights in a complementary study can help companies better understand the “why” behind the shifts in trend data.
Testing a concept before launch can also uncover how a sustainable package design will resonate with consumers, getting feedback from a target audience on packaging designs by comparing and scoring multiple concepts to maximize overall appeal and value.
Bringing brand values full circle
The bottom line is in fact, the bottom line: Brand values are inextricably tied to other company goals, like financial performance. Promoting sustainable values is great, but ultimately, consumers’ purchase decisions show how much it really matters.
In our study, 70% of consumers said they are very likely to purchase from a company that shares their environmental values. And, more than three-quarters of consumers said it’s worth it to pay more for environmentally friendly products.
Consumers are willing to pay, so now it’s up to brands to make good on their commitment to sustainability—and use research to determine which elements of an environmentally-friendly, sustainable brand matter most.
Methodology: This study was conducted using SurveyMonkey Audience in March 2021 to collect a sample of 1,097 adults in the U.S. The sample was balanced for age, gender and US Region according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.