Article by: Hari Yellina
As the economy worsens, Chris Fiander, Marketing Manager of the Westpak Group in the United Kingdom, considers whether customers and merchants will continue to prioritise ecologically sustainable products and packaging. “Spiraling energy costs, rising company production costs, reduced consumer spending, and soaring inflation are all taking their toll on consumers and businesses alike.” This economic backdrop presents important considerations about sustainable food and packaging practises, as well as consumer attitudes. Will consumers continue to prioritise environmentally sustainable products and packaging (sometimes at a higher financial cost than old, less sustainable materials and processes)?
Is it true that sustainable products and packaging can only thrive in an environment of economic growth, strong consumer spending, and high disposable income? In recent years, the grocery retail industry has made incredible strides in terms of sustainable packaging, including significant investments in recycling infrastructure, massive reductions in the use of plastics, the introduction of various refillable product lines, and commitments to ambitious carbon reduction targets, among other things. In addition, the consumer attitude has gotten more acclimated to goods that are both produced and presented in a more sustainable manner. As a result, environmentally friendly food packaging has become less of a novelty and more of a standard expectation among consumers. From every viewpoint, the industry will be hesitant to backtrack on such developments solely to save money.
Supermarkets will also be well aware of the public relations implications associated with degrading the long-term viability of their product lines. Retailers will want to show that their improved packaging sustainability and wider environmental credentials are genuine in such a competitive retail climate. Maintaining these pledges in the current economic context will assist to debunk any past cynical claims of greenwashing from industry observers. Furthermore, while retailers have undoubtedly made significant progress in terms of packaging sustainability, existing large product ranges continue to include more sustainable products alongside less expensive alternatives. As a result, items that can be obtained at a reasonable price remain available without requiring a reversal of sustainable improvements in other product lines.
Similarly, although broad segments of the economy are facing serious financial hardships, others will continue to have significant amounts of disposable cash and will expect to buy the more sustainably packed things to which they have been used. It’s also worth noting that the cost differences between environmentally friendly packaging and less expensive options (for example, cheaply made plastics) may not be as evident as they formerly were. Unsustainable packaging materials will become increasingly undesirable to retailers and packaging buyers as environmental legislation such as the plastic tax continues to take effect. A balancing act is the overarching difficulty that grocery businesses face. Businesses must ensure that groceries and fresh products remain inexpensive for a population that is going through a period of extreme financial hardship.
They must, however, continue to embrace sustainable packaging as well as broader corporate operations and processes. This is a common challenge for the grocery industry, and it is one that should be embraced rather than avoided. As is so frequently the case, innovation will undoubtedly provide the ability for retailers to combine these two critical characteristics. Whether it’s the latest technologies that extend the shelf life of sustainably packaged foods, packaging manufacturing innovations that drive efficiency savings in logistic and transport processes, or streamlined packaging designs that reduce material costs and usage, the industry will have a variety of options to meet these diverse consumer needs. Retailers who can increase consumer value while also improving sustainability will be in a good position to gain long-term client loyalty.” Chris Fiander, Marketing Manager, Westpak Group Ltd, contributed this viewpoint.