Sustainability: No Longer A Trend But A Business Imperative

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By Anna Hamill

With conscious consumerism on the rise, sustainability is no longer just a consumer trend but a business imperative for many brands.

If you’ve noticed a deluge of vegan products hitting the UK market in recent months, you’re not alone.

Citing data from Mintel, The Guardian recently reported that 24% of all new food products launched in the UK last year were vegan, with sales of meat-free food in the UK soaring 40% to reach £816m in 2019.  So it’s no surprise that early in 2020, brands are already jumping on the bandwagon with Burger King, Greggs, Oxo, Pret A Manger and supermarket brands among many bolstering their vegan offerings for 2020 (and no doubt ‘Veganuary’ is helping on that front).

What’s clear is that conscious consumerism is no longer just a ‘New Year, New Me’ January blip. The ‘plant-based lifestyle’ boom is a microcosm of a much larger trend playing out in the last couple of years: many consumers are more aware of how their lifestyle impacts the planet and are looking to make a change.

With climate activist Greta Thunberg and catastrophic environmental events such as the Australian bushfires putting the impact of global warming back in the headlines on a daily basis, many shoppers have decided to do their bit for the environment – and it’s impacting on the bottom line for brands. In fact, according to Nielsen data published by WARC’s Admap last year, 46% of surveyed global consumers said they would now be willing to forgo a brand name to buy environmentally friendly products.

This development is not lost on marketers: 84% of marketers surveyed in WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit 2020 said the twin pillars of conscious consumerism and sustainability – which WARC has deemed “the Greta effect” – would be impacting their marketing strategies in the coming year. Steve Challouma, Marketing Director at British food brand Birds Eye, has pointed out that increasing numbers of consumers are opting for less meat and more plant-based or fish-based diet – a macro-trend which is impacting how the iconic brand develops products and markets them.

“The concepts of more sustainable food choices that balance nutrition and environmental accountability are becoming the forefront of how we do our marketing,” he said in an interview for WARC’s Marketers Toolkit 2020. He’s not alone: advertising spend centred on ‘sustainability’ has seen rapid growth in the UK in the last few years.

And sustainability is no longer just a consumer trend, but is increasingly perceived as a business imperative. Environmentally-friendly supply chains were cited by 41% of respondents in WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit 2020 survey as focus for their brand this year, with 46% citing packaging is another key area as consumers hold companies more accountable on concerns such as single-use plastics and carbon emissions.

In an exclusive interview with WARC last year, Keith Weed – the former CMO of Unilever – noted the importance of its sustainability initiatives, especially in emerging markets: “We’re working on it hard… If we don’t take on all these challenges, then we can’t serve the very societies that are out there buying our products. I don’t think you can have a healthy business in an unhealthy society.”

Credit: WARC

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