The Saturday walk through the supermarket. Past the fresh produce department and the frozen food shelf. A cool breeze blows around your nose when the door opens and the flash-frozen vegetables go into the shopping cart. On to the snacks for the kids.
One by one, the customers' carts fill up with one item after another. And most of the carts contain products from sustainable agriculture, preferably with sustainable packaging. The packaging is preferably in muted colors, sometimes decorated with a plant pattern. There are good reasons for this, as studies by pacoon in 2012 and 2020 have already shown - for consumers, these colors symbolize sustainability.
According to the "Global Buying Green Report 2022" by Trivium Packaging, around 70 percent of consumers describe themselves as environmentally conscious. This is also reflected in their purchasing behavior. 68 percent of consumers have chosen a product in the previous six months because its sustainability record convinced them. Content and packaging are equally important to customers. In the case of food in particular, packaging is therefore likely to be perceived as part of the sustainability promise. "A major motivation for customers to come to us today and request sustainable, alternative packaging concepts or materials is based on the realization that consumers do not consider the current packaging to be sustainable and pressure is building to change something," says pacoon managing director Peter Désilets.
Shopworn plastic wrapping
According to a survey commissioned by the German Packaging Institute, almost 70 percent of consumers have already refrained from buying a product because it was not packaged sustainably. 19 percent even regularly avoid products whose packaging does not appear to have a good environmental balance. In the long term, this has a direct impact on sales figures, and brand value also suffers.
Anyone who is not perceived as sustainable will sooner or later no longer feature in the supermarket routine of critical customers. More than half of consumers prefer well-known brands with high brand equity. More brand equity usually means easier customer loyalty, the possibility of higher product prices and simplified introduction of new products. It is the brand's duty to convince consumers of the organic quality of food - and this works best, of course, when the product promise and the appearance and material of the packaging form a logical and comprehensible unit for consumers. "Brand owners have a duty here and must decide how best to meet this consumer demand. The 100% solution doesn't exist, so what compromise do producers make? However, very few producers have dealt with the issue intensively and sufficiently in recent years. At the same time, a solution is to be found quickly, which - listen and be amazed - may now even cost a little more. Here, the attitude has already changed in recent years, of course also due to the supply bottlenecks and cost increases. Too often, however, the easy and short-sighted route is taken in the hope that it won't fall on one's feet so quickly - a bet on the future, in other words, and all in all also just a drawing level with the mass of competitors and not a unique selling proposition," says Désilets, describing the not always sensible restraint of the brand owners.
No one can rest on their image. Even brands that are currently very present and positively linked in the perception of customers will find themselves in trouble if they fail to recognize the signs of the times. In the long term, there is no alternative to sustainable packaging and products, even for major players. After all, big brands also have more to lose - their brand image is directly linked to a clear product language and crystal-clear positioning - precisely also in terms of sustainability. But it's not always the industry giants that lead the way: "Small brands often act faster and are more willing to take risks, but they are also frequently shaped by ideological ideas and the solutions are not necessarily more sustainable overall. On the other hand, they are more likely to strike a chord with their target group - which, of course, is also ideologically oriented. Big brands like to put on a show, communicate more boldly, but the solution is often the path of least resistance. There is also less risk-taking with the big brands, according to the motto 'If you have a lot, you can lose a lot,' and the implementation in the supply chain is naturally also more complex," says Désilets.
Delivering information on the packaging
In turn, smaller brands can only build their brand equity sustainably. Studies show that environmental awareness is far from having reached its zenith. Demands in terms of sustainable packaging are constantly rising, and the environment is on everyone's lips.
In the future, companies will only be able to reap the benefits of high brand value if they have taken care of a good environmental balance sheet and holistic sustainability communication in good time.
Succinct advertising messages and a print on the edge of the packaging no longer satisfy customers' thirst for knowledge; they want more information. If, on the other hand, you provide comprehensive information on all available channels and also communicate challenges openly, you pay cash into your brand value account.
Offering the packaging of tomorrow
Every third German is willing to experiment with food and household products. And even the most loyal customers make new decisions every day and try out new things when in doubt. Brand value is not an inviolable constant; it changes with the needs and wishes of consumers. The importance of sustainability cannot be underestimated.
Sustainable outer packaging becomes an indication that I can also rely on sustainability promises for the contents. A piece of the puzzle, a boost for brand awareness. If you value a credible brand identity, you have to position your company as sustainable across the board. Appropriate branding contributes a piece to this. Today's customers are looking for companies that live up to their social responsibility to society.
Brand value sustainably enhanced
One of numerous examples of how brand value can be secured and even further expanded through a holistic sustainability strategy is Frosta. The brand name has been a household name for consumers for decades, and since 2003 it has had a "purity requirement": the company advertises frozen products made from sustainably grown ingredients without flavor enhancers, flavors or colorants.
The sustainable orientation of the brand identity is now also being continued in packaging material and design. In 2020, Frosta won the German Packaging Award in the sustainability category with its first paper bag for the freezer. Plastic is completely replaced, the bag can be recycled with waste paper and has a lower carbon footprint. All aspects that can also be communicated to critical customers. However, the development involves a lot of effort to also equip the packs with the necessary barriers.
Real alternatives for the environment
Because customers have become more alert to the slightest suspicion of greenwashing and want real alternatives. Sustainable packaging can be made from a renewable raw material instead of fossil plastic, be a reusable alternative, be recyclable, made from recyclate or compostable - the choice is huge. And the packaging industry is constantly developing new options that take into account the crucial role of sustainability.
The majority of consumers are prepared to accept higher prices in return. According to the "Global Buying Green Report 2022" mentioned earlier, 86 percent of consumers under the age of 45 are prepared to pay more for sustainable packaging. This represents a further increase of three percentage points compared to 2021. More than 15,000 consumers in Europe, North and South America were surveyed for the report. Incidentally, this also shows that sustainable packaging is one of the more crisis-proof factors for business success, because the war against Ukraine and the resulting higher prices on supermarket shelves are less likely to affect green consumerism.
The consumer world wants packaging made of environmentally friendly materials or raw materials without long transportation, preferably not plastics but paper. "This is also the tenor of the manufacturer inquiries that have been landing with us for the past two to three years," says Peter Désilets. She wants to avoid waste, recycle and conserve resources. Consumers are therefore not only concerned about product protection, but also about the use of the packaging after the product has been used. And in all of this, one is challenged as a brand to serve with appropriate products.
Not a question of price
Appropriate price increases can also cushion the costs that can - but do not necessarily have to - arise when switching to sustainable packaging materials. In some cases, no complex technical conversions are necessary, or costs can be saved at certain points in the value chain.
However, anyone considering switching to a more sustainable version of packaging should always take the entire production and life cycle of a product into account. From the source of the packaging material used to its disposal and the way it ends up in packaging waste: Consumers appreciate a coherent, sustainable brand strategy. This is how the "Sustainable Packaging" project is guaranteed to succeed.
Sustainability ensures attention
We already know that a large proportion of the population is environmentally aware when they browse the local supermarkets. They buy what credibly promises them planet and resource protection, and increasingly leave the rest behind. Plastic shopping bags are just as outdated as plastic packaging where it doesn't seem necessary. Customers want to make a contribution to saving the environment, and the question of meaning has also found its way into our everyday lives. A company's contribution is, among other things, to support consumers in this endeavor, not entirely altruistically.
Anyone who wants to be perceived in the context of sustainability - who wants to be perceived at all in the future - should not miss the boat and adapt their offering to demand. The favor of the consumer and thus also one's own brand value are gambled away all too quickly. Peter Désilets warns against being too willing to compromise: "The process of changing packaging can take one or two years, depending on what is being changed and until the relevant tests have been completed. Companies should therefore address the issue at an early stage so that they do not get into a time crunch and thus make a possibly disadvantageous decision 'out of necessity'. Often, however, companies go over to saving when things are not going well. However, those who reposition themselves in times of crisis - whether in terms of packaging, packaging design or the range of products and services - are already working on the future value of the brand. There are also brands that invest in times of crisis because the perception is better then and the effect is therefore higher. But in our short-term entrepreneurial thinking, it's usually the next quarter or year that counts, not long-term success."