Sales of sustainable products are up across the board. In the U.S. alone, we expect that U.S. sustainably minded shoppers will spend up to $150 billion on sustainable fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) by 2021.
But as sustainability sophistication in both products and consumers advances, the landscape and what sustainability means to individuals becomes increasingly complex. As consumers become more discerning, they’re taking more of an interest in how products are made, how companies treat their workers, and a range of other sustainability-related areas of real concern.
To win, companies need to understand who the sustainable shopper is, as well as how their lifestyle needs and expectations may influence their buying habits and preferences in the years to come.
Sustainability attributes range from complex terms such as “Terracycle certified” to the general “Ethical.” Instead of diving into specific attributes, Nielsen has created a framework to help companies understand what resonates. Research shows that consumers evaluate sustainability with a “Healthy for Me and Healthy for We” lens and are using this to make buying decisions for their families and to evaluate which products or brands align with their values.
According to recent research, sustainable shoppers in the U.S. tend to be well-educated young transitionals who live in smaller households and live in urban cities. Companies can use this high-level view to frame the needs and demands of the typical sustainable consumer.
“Layering additional consumer data, whether from retailers or manufacturers or third parties, can help enrich segmentation profiles that deliver a detailed, yet strategic view of who your sustainable shopper is. Are they seeking specific sustainability traits? Or are they accidental sustainable shoppers?,” says Sarah Schmansky, Vice President, Nielsen U.S. Fresh / Health and Wellness Growth and Strategy.
When it comes to understanding sustainability, it’s critical for companies to look at consumers’ motivations, or psychographics, about sustainability, and connect them to their actual purchasing behavior. In short, are consumers buying what they say they will?
The answer is yes. Today, more than half (64%) of U.S. households buy sustainable products, up four percentage points from a year ago. While the majority of these sales are concentrated in coastal cities like Boston and Portland, Oregon, the sustainability trend is making its way into the heart of America. Up-and-coming cities for both sustainability and Millennial growth include Salt Lake City and Kansas City.
Once brands and retailers know where the sustainable shoppers are, they need to know how to engage them. Our demographic data shows that sustainable shoppers are more likely to be digitally engaged, as they readily use their devices to sift through the myriad of information available when making purchasing decisions. Consumers with a mindset and lifestyle focused on health and sustainability are 67% more likely to be digitally engaged, and they’re also more likely to shop online (11%), on a handheld device (22%) and to use their devices when shopping in-store (12%).
“Those who are digitally engaged will turn to their devices to answer ‘what’s healthy for me and for the world?’ in order to help them purchase products that further their beliefs and avoid products that don’t,” said Julia Wilson, Vice President, Global Responsibility & Sustainability. “It’s clear that investing in a digital strategy to engage with these consumers will make a huge difference in how much your sustainability message resonates and breaks through the clutter.”
For additional insights, check out our recent Consumers Buy The Change They Wish To See in The World report.