According to the 2022 UK Brand Sustainability Benchmark Report, one in four Brits have already switched to brands with the strongest sustainability credentials – while the move by others to do so is on a rapid rise.
The report from research tech firm Glow is the first indepth look into the sustainability record of the UK food and grocery space.
The survey, conducted between April and August, targeted the opinion of 16,000 consumers on 102 brands, and used Glow’s proprietary measure Social Responsibility Score (SRS), which assesses consumer perceptions of brand ESG (environment, social and governance) performance.
Even in this inflationary climate, Glow CEO Tim Clover said consumers are now expecting brands to make tangible changes across many parts of their business.
ESG action today is a necessity – not a nice-to-have.
- 9 out of 10 consumers expect brands to behave responsibly.
- Importance will increase as Gen Z and Millennials feel most passionate about ESG.
- 4 in 10 consumers are not satisfied with the industry’s current performance.
“There is no doubt a growing cohort of consumers are making their own impact by shedding the brands that don’t meet their sustainability expectations and are moving to brands that help them feel they are making ‘micro-differences’ every day,” said Clover.
“Given the ongoing cost-of-living crisis that is putting serious pressure on household budgets, many brands are looking to offer increasing value to consumers. At the same time, consumers are looking for opportunities to trade down to save money.
“However, this does not have to be a race to the bottom. Along with price and quality, sustainability is an increasingly important consideration to the growing cohort of consumers that care.”
Among the top 20 food brands to shine are London-based Rude Health, which touts of being ‘unafraid of standing up for real, honest’ muesli, granola, honey puffed oats, honey puffed spelt, among others, at seventh spot; Weetabix, which has been ‘proudly fuelling the nation since 1932 (12th), with high-quality cereals since 1932; PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats, which was founded in 1877 on ‘the belief that everyone, everywhere should have access to good nutrition’ (18th) and Dorset Cereals that is passionate about reducing waste and keeping Dorset green in 19th position.
However, even these brands have specific cohorts of loyalists and detractors, making it important to understand who the fans are. Weetabix, for example, has rallied Millennials with its social and environmental responsibility, but still struggle to convince most Gen Zers and Boomers. Jordan Cereals was another brand to rate highly among Boomers, but still needs to win over the Gen Zers.
“Consumers now almost universally expect Food & Grocery brands to be stepping up in relation to environmental issues and reducing their impact on the planet,” added Rachel White, market leader, Nielsen IQ UK & Ireland.
“In addition, younger consumers in particular are also increasingly judging brands on how they support their communities, partners and suppliers.
“Brands that are slow to respond to these expectations are going to find it increasingly difficult to compete which is why data of this kind is so important.”
Inform but don’t grandstand
Clover said the industry’s biggest opportunity to improve perception is by addressing key environmental concerns like reducing emissions and climate change, and respecting and protecting natural resources, as well as demonstrating strong corporate governance by taking care of supplier welfare.
Consumers say they gather their ESG messages primarily through news and media coverage, product packaging and advertising. But they want more info on brand-owned channels, like packaging and instore/online at the moment of purchase. Many also want to be less reliant on their social media feed.
“The brands that set out their ‘journey to better’ and provide regular updates and communications as results are observed to have increased engagement from their followers, and engender trust and loyalty.”
But beware, “brands that ‘grandstand’ about distant, abstract goals can confuse or lose the trust of tuned-in and action-focused consumers, even when the programmes themselves are highly impactful and beneficial,” added Clover.
“It is clear that consumers don’t expect perfection but they do expect honesty, commitments and progress.”
Other interesting statistics from the report showed:
Gen Z tends to have a more unfavourable opinion of leading brands, rating them on average 7 points lower than the average across age groups, indicating a level of scepticism towards even the most progressive brands.
At the other end of the spectrum, Boomers give by far the lowest scores (-9) to the bottom brands, indicating a higher level of frustration with brands that are dragging down the industry.
Gen Zers, and to a lesser extent Millennials, have a greater preference for receiving information on a company’s ESG efforts via social media (general or company-specific) as well as from friends and family.
This contrasts with Boomers, who are less likely to want to receive information via social media and have a greater interest in this information coming from more traditional news outlets. Gen Z is also less likely than other age groups to be looking for ESG information on product packaging.