Insight: 80 percent of UK Shoppers describe themselves as ‘environmentally friendly’ – Shoppercentric

The latest industry report from independent shopper research consultancy, Shoppercentric, has been launched. The research, entitled: ‘Window On…Shoppers and Sustainability’ was carried out across 1018 UK shoppers aged 18+ from a nationally represented sample and explores the relationship shoppers have with sustainability – how they define it, look for these items and what would encourage them to purchase more.

The research reveals that being ‘green’ has become the norm – with 80 percent of UK shoppers now describing themselves as being ‘environmentally friendly’ and 82 percent claim to consider ‘environmentally friendly’ labelling within their purchase decisions. A further 59 percent also claim to actively avoid particular types of packaging.

Interestingly those aged 75+ are displaying more environmentally friendly behaviour than the younger generations. For example, 58 percent of this group will try to choose products packaged in an environmentally friendly way vs 40 percent of 18-24 yr olds. Additionally, 92 percent of 75+ yr olds would like to see paper bags replace plastic for fresh produce vs 71 percent of 18-24 yr olds. It appears that older shoppers are quietly drawing from their experiences – living in the post-war era of real austerity – in some contrast to the more vocal call for change among the younger generation.


“We need to consider what’s required to change generational learnt behaviour – to buy necessity goods in ‘sustainable’ ways,” said Jamie Rayner, Managing Director at Shoppercentric. “Cost reductions are used to seek that competitive edge and as a result price has become an overriding factor in shopper’s product choice – but it doesn’t have to be that way. We believe that there is an opportunity for brands to go beyond price, and reintroduce other equally important values. Since we last looked at this area of shopper behaviour nine years ago we can see significant positive changes have occurred.”


Key discoveries include: 

What does sustainability actually mean to UK shoppers?

  • For the vast majority (64 percent), it means ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future generation’.
  • It’s all about ‘renewable or recyclable resources’ for 46 percent of shoppers, closely followed (with 44 percent) by ‘human, social, environmental and economic needs’.
  • It signifies being ‘environmentally friendly’ for 39 percent.
  • 35 percent felt that it means protecting ‘people, plans and the planet equally’ and 31 percent felt it referred to ‘protecting the oceans’.
  • For 29 percent it’s about ‘preventing climate change’.


Key learning – For UK shoppers, sustainability is a word that has multiple meanings and that can describe multiple different shopping behaviours.


What do shoppers perceive as sustainable spending behaviours?

  • In first place with 72 percent, is products that are sustainably sourced.
  • 69 percent of shoppers believe it is buying packaging that is recyclable.
  • Avoiding buying single use plastic was cited by 65 percent and 62 percent said it was buying products made in an environmentally way.
  • Buying wonky fruit and vegetables (52 percent), buying seasonal produce (44 percent) and buying local (43 percent) also featured high up in shoppers’ views as sustainable behaviours.


Key learning – There is no single behaviour that we can adopt in order to shop in a sustainable way. Instead there are all manner of actions.


What would encourage shoppers to buy more sustainable goods?

  • If there was price parity between environmentally friendly products and standard products, 64 percent of UK shoppers said that they would buy more.
  • 47 percent said that they’d purchase more sustainable goods if they were easier to locate in-store – compared with 45 percent in 2010.
  • Local councils recycling more and more choice in-store would encourage 42 percent to a purchase these products.
  • Reassurance that these types of products were as good as standard ones would see 34 percent of shoppers changing over to sustainable goods (compared with 36 percent in 2010).
  • A change in legislation would persuade 28 percent of shoppers (versus 24 percent in 2010).
  • Finally, 24 percent of shoppers said that more awareness of the impact of buying sustainable products and knowing which stores sell them would influence their spending – compared with 25 percent in 2010.


Key learning – There are still barriers which are holding shoppers back, but interestingly these barriers have lessened over time. This most likely reflects both the broader choice of products available nowadays and the shift in consumer perceptions, which shows how efforts on the part of manufacturers and retailers can combine with shifts in consumer sentiments to drive real change.


How can retailers win shoppers’ hearts ethically?

  • Enable shoppers to buy loose fruit and veg in order to reduce plastic waste – 29 percent say that they always look to make their purchases this way.
  • Try to avoid single use plastic in general – a preference for 42 percent of shoppers.
  • Look to use easy-to-recycle packaging options – chosen frequently by 43 percent of shoppers.
  • Work towards banning non-recyclable packaging – a desire for two thirds of shoppers who want the choice taken out of their hands completely.


Key learning – Connecting emotionally with shoppers by communicating ethical, eco-friendly credentials on pack will likely become an essential element of successful pack design.


Do shoppers look for sustainability labelling on goods?

  • 96 percent of shoppers said that they had seen sustainable labels on food and drink items. This dropped to 64 percent on household goods and just 38 percent had noticed this type of labelling on clothing items.
  • Sustainability packaging descriptors were seen on food and drink items by 93 percent of shoppers and on 71 percent of household goods.
  • The sustainable label noticed the most is Fairtrade – 81 percent of shoppers (an increase of 13 percent since 2010). Free range came in second place – up seven percent from 2010 to 79 percent this year. Organic labels took third place with 75 percent – up ten percent since 2010. Interestingly FarmAssured (the red tractor logo) have been very successful in raising their awareness over the last nine years – with visibility up from 32 to 52 percent. But awareness does not automatically lead to action – the research indicated that only 22 percent of shoppers actively look for the red tractor when shopping.


Key learning – There is a lot of pressure on food producers, brand manufacturers and retailers to ‘up’ their sustainability credentials and it’s clear that there is clearly plenty of room for clothing to improve. Brands and retailers should look to align themselves with the wide range of potential labels available to demonstrate their sustainability or environmentally friendly features.


Rayner concludes: “As environmental commentators have been pointing out, sustainability isn’t just about buying the right things, it’s also about buying less. For shoppers there’s still a long way to go, but the desire to do the ‘right thing’ is clearly there – however the difficulty is understanding how shoppers match their desire for change, with actual changes in their behaviour.

It’s clear from our research that shoppers need more help from manufacturers, retailers and the government.  They need guidance to see the ‘right’ products in-store, highlighting those that will make a difference and help to differentiate between the options: emotionally rather than rationally.”


Share:Share on LinkedInTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook