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Is the price right?

Julie Vigne Senior Research Director 23/11/2021

Aiming for more sustainable grocery shopping, but not at any cost.

Our recent Eco Index 2021 study revealed that Food and Groceries is one of the key categories where sustainability is at the forefront of purchase decisions for UK shoppers, with 30% saying that a desire to be environmentally friendly is always an influencing factor in the food and groceries purchase decisions.

The reality is that sustainable behaviours remain fairly limited and quite basic, with the use of reusable bags topping the list.

In fact, 12% would be willing to pay ‘a lot more’ to buy more sustainable food and groceries, showing the opportunity for retailers and manufacturers, if they can demonstrate their sustainability creds.

Behind the desire to be sustainable in this everyday category, the reality of purchase decision making is a bit more complex (as always).

Of course, a majority of us would consider buying more sustainably, from products with a lower carbon footprint (60%), to buying fair trade (60%), or buying in bulk to reduce packaging (57%), but how many of these sustainable behaviours have already been adopted? Not that many by the looks of things.

The reality is that sustainable behaviours remain fairly limited and quite basic, with the use of reusable bags topping the list. But if only 55% of us use them 6 years after the introduction of the single-use plastic bag charge in supermarkets, I‘d say there is still a long way to go to establish impactful behaviours. Other sustainable behaviours emerging include buying wonky vegetables (41%) or minimising waste through meal plans and freezing (38%), with many, many other steps shoppers take from buying fair-trade or local to minimising packaging.

This highlights two underlying factors: one, there is no one way to buy sustainably and two, cost has a lot to do with taking up new sustainable behaviours.

First, sustainable purchase behaviour can mean many things. Shoppers will prioritise certain aspects, because they’re closer to their heart, because they’re easier to implement or because that’s what their friends do. After all, very few (6%) consider themselves early adopters when it comes to sustainable grocery shopping and the majority are influenced by others’ behaviours.

Secondly, the more established behaviours often have one very important thing in common: they cut costs. For the 12% who say there are willing to pay a lot more to buy more sustainably, a much bigger 39% say they are not willing to spend a single penny extra. At a time where inflation is rising, cost is by far the main barrier to shopping more sustainably. Let’s not forget that when it comes to food and groceries, quality, price and freshness dominate purchase decision making for over 60% of shoppers.

Aspects of sustainability trail far behind: locally sourced is very important for 34%, ethical brand for 29%, organic for 21%… and they often differ between generations with Baby Boomers for example putting more emphasis on locally sourced and packaging while Gen Z might take a more holistic view putting ethical brand on top of the sustainability tree.

So are we really moving towards more sustainable grocery shopping? Probably. But it is clear that the change needs to be driven by retailers and manufacturers and can’t impact prices negatively to be widely implemented. And this will take time too. But there is a clear interest and desire from shoppers to change the way they shop, leading to many potential opportunities for both retailers and manufacturers to harness this desire.

Over the next few weeks and months, we will be exploring these opportunities in more detail, looking at the role of packaging, accreditations and messages and how to leverage them to make sustainability a key differentiating factor.

To learn more about consumer attitudes to environmental issues and the impact on their purchase decisions:

Download Eco Index UK

Download Eco Index US

For more information on how we can help brands understand shopper behaviour, please get in touch.

Source: Consumer Compass – Grocery Eye. UK Nat rep sample (n=2,000). Fieldwork September 2021

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