Plastic straws have been stealing headlines this summer. Across the food service industry, actions are being taken to limit the use of plastic straws to reduce environmental impacts. Starbucks is one such example, having committed to phasing out single-use plastic straws. At the same time, several cities in the U.S. and around the globe have banned plastic straws or have pending legislation around the issue.
But have consumers drawn their last straw when it comes to fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) purchases? According to Nielsen’s Friday morning data for the week ended Aug. 4, 2018, sales would indicate otherwise. In the U.S., the total straw category represented $1.7 million in sales during the week, up 3.4% in dollars and 1.0% in units compared to the same time last year. In fact, for the last six weeks, sales have consistently outpaced rates of a year ago.
Diving deeper, Nielsen reference data on straws by material substance shows that plastic straws represented 56% of sales for the week ended Aug. 4, 2018. Dollar sales for plastic straws grew 1.8% during the week, but unit sales dipped slightly by 1.8%. Meanwhile, dollar sales grew 1.5% for cardboard straws and unit consumption increased more than 6%. It’s seems that more consumers are taking a stance for sustainability when it comes to straws for their personal use as well.
According to data from Nielsen and Nielsen Product Insider, 64% of U.S. households buy sustainable products, which is up 4 percentage points from a year ago. And trends toward sustainability could have a significant effect on FMCG manufacturers and retailers. While straws have dominated news stories about the environmental impact of plastic, many other categories across the store include single-use or disposable products in both paper and plastic. And annual sales trends point to a shift in consumer sentiment.
For example, the paper and plastics category—including items like straws, disposable cutlery and dishware, napkins and paper towels, among others—represented $23 billion in annual sales as of the 52 weeks ending June 30, 2018. And while dollar sales growth was flat year-over-year, unit sales were down 1.7%. Similar trends emerged in the food storage category, which includes the likes of disposable food containers, food storage bags and plastic wrap, during the same period. This category represented $2.9 billion in annual sales, but while dollar sales were flat year-over-year, unit sales dropped 2.0%.
That said, there have been bright spots of growth for paper and plastics products across both of these categories. However, many have seen sales decline year-over-year.
In addition to consumers’ environmental concerns, sales declines for paper goods items, like paper towels and napkins, may also reflect a rise in the cost of pulp this summer. However, with consumers becoming increasingly interested in sustainability, manufacturers and retailers should consider these trends in their messaging, packaging and even products themselves.
Data for this article was made possible by Nielsen Friday morning data delivery, the earliest FMCG market read available. Learn more about Friday morning data delivery.