Nielsen: Which sustainability attributes matter most to consumers?

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

 ©GettyImages / ASphotowed
©GettyImages / ASphotowed

Related tags: Sustainability, Nielsen

Consumers are increasingly factoring in a product's sustainability attributes into their purchasing behavior and 73% of consumers surveyed by Nielsen say they are willing to change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact.

According to Nielsen's vice president, global responsibility and sustainability, Julia Wilson, consumers will spend up to $150bn on sustainable products by 2021, however not all sustainability attributes are valued equally in their eyes.

In a study​ of more than 21,000 US households, Nielsen analyzed consumers' attitudes towards various sustainable attributes across 13 product categories. Overall, consumers identified "environmentally friendly"​ and "recycled packaging"​ as the top two sustainability attributes for which they are willing to pay extra for. 

For fresh food categories, consumers' prioritization of sustainability attributes shift. For instance, for fresh food categories such as eggs, consumers are more focused on the farming aspects of the product they're purchasing. According to Nielsen, just over 35% of those surveyed said they would pay more for farm raised eggs, 33% would pay more for eggs calling out organic farming, 32% prioritize the 'cruelty free' attribute, and 29% would pay more for pasture-raised eggs.

"In a fresh foods category like eggs, consumers are focused more on the farming aspects of the product they’re purchasing—and eventually eating—than the more macroeconomic or technology-related sustainability aspects. This indicates a priority on sustainability aspects that have a more direct impact on consumers’ personal health than that of the world at large,"​ noted Nielsen. 

Achieving 'authentic' sustainability'

In order for brands to take advantage of consumers' growing sustainability mindset, they must first identify what "sustainability"​ means to their specific brand or company, according to Nielsen. For instance, highlighting reusable packaging may be more impactful for a laundry detergent brand than it would be for a milk brand.

"For brands, your product portfolio needs to reflect consumers’ specific priorities within your category in order for you to authentically engage them and build credibility,"​ Nielsen added.

To successfully achieve these values, sustainability must be supported holistically by the company from an end-to-end supply chain perspective.

"This isn’t a marketing task. Instead, it’s something that an organization needs to build into its processes from the very beginning and across all stages of product development and growth. True commitment to sustainability will make your products better and enable more authentic and long-lasting connections with your customers,"​ said Nielsen. 

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