Mintel Releases New Consumer Data on Sustainability
by Mary Ellen Kuhn
“Making Sense of Sustainability: What Consumers Really Think” was the title of a data-packed session on Monday morning, July 19. But as Krista Faron, Director of Innovation and Insights for global market intelligence firm Mintel International revealed, it’s not always easy to make sense of consumer attitudes and behavior as they relate to sustainability because the data can be contradictory.
Mintel’s session marked the debut of findings from brand new consumer research Mintel conducted via an online survey of 2,000 adults from across the United States in June 2010.
“Consumers generally have quite good intentions when it comes to being green/sustainable, but those intentions don’t always match up with reality,” said Faron. She cited several disconnects between what survey respondents said they were doing and what they actually are doing. For example, she noted that of survey respondents who said they purchased Fair Trade products, 23% said they bought Fair Trade salty snacks and 22% said they bought Fair Trade prepared meals. However, Faron pointed out, “unfortunately, those products don’t exist.” Mintel reported tracking zero product launches in these two categories.
Mintel segments consumers according to four different “shades of green,” broken out as follows: Super Greens – 9% of consumers, those who almost always buy green; True Greens – 27% of consumers, those who regularly make green purchases; Light Greens – 57% of consumers, those who are occasional purchasers of green products; and Never Greens – 7%, those who never buy green products.
One of the key takeaways from the Mintel survey was that, although the vast majority of consumers have some interest in purchasing products with a sustainable positioning, they are not likely to do so if the product costs more than the conventional version or if it inconveniences the consumer in some way.
The Mintel research showed that consumers associate green products with high quality; 45% of respondents said they bought these products because of their quality. In addition, 42% cited food safety concerns as a reason for purchasing sustainable products.
Faron also broke out data on how consumer demographics affect green purchasing behavior. “Age really was a fairly strong indicator of what people are buying and what people are not buying,” Faron said. The group that indexes the highest on sustainable purchasing behavior is comprised of consumers ages 25–34, something that Faron attributes to the fact that their age makes them both attuned to the green movement and that they are at a point in life where they are likely to have some degree of financial stability. Consumers age 65+ are the least likely to make sustainable purchases, which makes them a fairly challenging audience for marketers.
Food marketers have other challenges as well, including lack of awareness. The Mintel survey showed that more than one-third of consumers had never heard of claims that related to sustainable forestry or Fair Trade. “We can’t assume that the mainstream population has heard of these claims,” said Faron. “And it’s going to be tough to sell a product with a claim that consumers have never heard of.”
In addition, many consumers reported that they simply don’t notice claims on products they buy. “The lesson here is clear, simple, bold messaging—that’s the way to break through the clutter,” said Faron. “Clearly, in many cases that is missing.”
When it comes to marketing sustainable products, “there really isn’t a silver bullet,” Faron summarized. The Mintel session concluded with a consumer panel discussion moderated by Faron and Mintel Director of Research Joan Holleran, which helped bring the Mintel facts and figures to life as consumers shared their real-life reasons for purchasing (or not purchasing) products with sustainable positioning.