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Shifting values: 6 ways to remain sustainable amidst inflation

Many are predicting that consumers will sacrifice sustainability as the cost-of-living crisis continues. Our data suggests otherwise.

Lisa Fourie Senior Director 12/10/2022

The latest results from our monthly Omnibus, Consumer Compass tracker and Grocery Eye data all reveal that despite the current economic climate, the UK public still cares about sustainable choices.
However, they also need a helping hand from their favourite brands.

Price is top-of-mind, but criteria around sustainability have stayed stable.

Sustainability has been at the forefront of manufacturer and retailer strategies in recent years. Some called 2021 the year sustainable business went mainstream and out of Europe’s largest listed companies, approximately a third have pledged to meet Net Zero targets by 2050.

It’s also a high priority for consumers. Our Grocery Eye 2022 report shows that only 21% don’t pay attention to sustainability whilst making purchase decisions. Based on our State of the Youth Nation data, Gen Z – who have a significant part to play between now and 2050 – say that to support sustainable values, they’re willing to pay more.

But faced with a cost-of-living crisis in 2022 and the highest inflation rate rise for 25 years, will they really? Data from our Cost-of-Living Omnibus shows how these are already tough times for the public:

  • 69% of those ‘suffering’ and 52% of those ‘squeezed’ in this difficult economic period say they’re now forced to rethink their shopping priorities
  • The proportion of those feeling ‘insulated’ from economic shocks is at its lowest since 2009 during the global financial crisis

Sustainability values vs value for money?

Are consumers going to deprioritise sustainable choices, as costs keep rising? Not necessarily.

So far at least, drivers behind purchase decisions remain similar year-on-year, according to Grocery Eye. Price is top-of-mind, but criteria around sustainability have stayed stable. The data suggests consumers will trade off other factors first, including in the Top 3:

  • Being up to date with the latest trends: 39%
  • Having the newest products: 38%
  • Brand choice: 34%

These may be harder trade-off decisions for Gen Z though – they’re less willing to miss out on trends or the latest products. Moreover, while 73% say they’d spend more for sustainable goods, our Eco Index 2021 and 2020 suggest that young consumers don’t follow through with actions as much as older generations – yet.

Nevertheless, in 2022, sustainability can’t come at a premium for a cost-conscious public. Omnibus data shows most won’t spend more for sustainable products, across all consumer categories.

But even those suffering in the current climate would do more if they could. As a segment, ‘Sufferers’ have cut every expenditure they can because they’re worried about the future – 55% “want to buy more sustainably, but can’t afford to” right now.

What does this mean for brands?

  1. Keep green credentials. Overall, most consumers don’t want to see brands prioritise affordability instead of sustainability. Only 27% think companies should stop their sustainability drive until the cost-of-living crisis is over.
  2. Keep pricing competitive. Consumers don’t expect brands to pass sustainability initiative costs onto them. Instead, 83% agree and 40% strongly agree that “brands have a responsibility to make sustainable products affordable” – while among those suffering financially, 89% agree and 58% strongly agree. Ensure your brand has sustainability credentials engrained within its brand values.
  3. Keep your commitments. Actions speak louder than words, so ensure your brand is credible. The vast majority aren’t sure that brands commit to the sustainability claims they make on packaging. Only a mere 3% of consumers strongly believe they do.
  4. Keep your focus. Focus your messaging on action already being taken – and already being paid for. Do this at the expense of mentioning what you’re planning to do, that will sound more expensive. Consumers are on the lookout for signs of greenwashing, which will lead to further brand scepticism.
  5. Keep supporting bigger causes. For grocery shopping, consumers are most motivated to buy sustainably in support of the following (and therefore your marketing activity should take into account)

    • The planet: 45%

    • Future generations: 40%

    • Myself: 39%

  6. Keep educating. Consumers aren’t necessarily sustainability experts – there’s a role for brands to offer education here. Nearly half (47%) say they need help understanding which products are truly sustainable. Guide your customers by informing and inspiring them.


The cost-of-living crisis shouldn’t cause consumers to stop all support for sustainable causes – but they do expect brands to make sustainability affordable.

To find out more about our range of research studies around sustainability and consumer attitudes, or to speak to one of our specialists, please contact us.

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