“Keep it simple and natural” – research finds consumers are eager to buy sustainable packaging

“Keep it simple and natural” – research finds consumers are eager to buy sustainable packaging
  • New study finds most consumers would pay extra for sustainable packaging
  • Many consumers would switch brands if competitor was more sustainable
  • Questions remain over whether consumers understand packaging certification marks

A new study from BillerudKorsnäs has found that a significant proportion of consumers would pay extra for sustainable packaging and would even change brands to do so. However, talking to World Trademark Review, a BillerudKorsnäs representative suggests that one challenge could be the sheer number of certification trademarks that exist – with so-called “label-mania” making it difficult for brands to effectively communicate sustainability credentials to consumers.

The new research – BillerudKorsnäs Consumer Panel: Packaging Sustainability for Helpful Brands – was conducted by Swedish pulp and paper manufacturer BillerudKorsnäs. It focused on people’s views on packaging sustainability, and the choices being made based on the materials and design of packaging – exploring the desire of consumers to tackle issues such as littering, climate change, and product waste.

The study cites examples of brands that have pledged to make significant improvements to their packaging sustainability; for example, Arla Foods – the fourth biggest dairy group in the world – launched a strategy to reduce its environmental impact through packaging development, and it now uses 54% renewable packaging materials globally. Such a move may involve additional expense, but it is also preparation for tougher regulations against wasteful packaging. And the BillerudKorsnäs consumer panel – which includes people from all over the world – confirms that the expense is worth it in terms of securing customer goodwill. The study states that consumers “are willing to invest, both time and money, in more sustainable packaging solutions”, revealing that 72% would be willing to pay more for a product that is packaging in a sustainable way. The figure rises for those between 18 and 50 years old, the study adds. On top of that, 64% of respondents indicated that they would “change a product/brand for another” if it clearly provided a more sustainable choice of packaging.

The results are a reminder of the increasingly positive sentiment that consumers have towards packaging sustainability. To that end, BillerudKorsnäs urges companies to look at how packaging – both the material it is made from and its design – helps define their brands. “Packaging is a clear point of contact with the customer, regardless of sales channel, and therefore a key part in being a brand that is helpful in people’s ambition to become more sustainability-oriented,” the study’s author suggests. “Branded packaging can be so much more than logo, colours, textures and shapes. Making the packaging a conceptual part of the brand’s positioning can truly lift the consumer experience and show that you and the consumer are part of the same journey toward sustainable consumption.”

But one question not addressed in the study is the role of certification trademarks in communicating sustainable packaging to consumers. There is a wide range of certification marks that can be added to eligible packaging (Eco Label Index lists over 40), but it is not clear how many consumers are aware of or truly understand them. For example, the “On-Pack Recycling” certification mark is used on 75,000 product lines in the UK – but its use does not synchronise with what packaging can actually be recycled in certain areas. But talking to World Trademark Review, BillerudKorsnäs customer insights director, Jon Haag, says that the message is clear: “Keep it simple and natural.”

“Far too few brands tell consumers about the packaging choice they have made, but we now know that consumers are eager to understand,” he expands. “But many reports indicate that ‘label-mania’ makes consumers less interested in the labels; in terms of certification marks that matter, most consumers understand and appreciate labels that indicate a ‘direct action’. For example, FSC indicates that only certified forest fibers have been used, or the EU Composability mark tells a consumer that the packaging is compostable. But many certification marks are too complex and are probably better used for business-to-business purposes. In general, most labels [can] blur the picture for consumers: is the compostable mark referring to the product or to the packaging? Is the FSC referring to the wooden tablet bought or to the packaging used? That’s why brands should makes sure that the Compostable certification mark and the FSC is valid for both the product and the packaging – and then brag about it on the packaging design and in communication.”

We’ve written before about the opportunities and the risks associated with highlighting ‘green’ credentials, especially when it comes to being able to quantify such claims. But the evidence is clear – consumers are increasingly demanding packaging sustainability, and proactive brands should ensure they meet that demand. Crucially, trademark practitioners should engage with product design and marketing colleagues to ensure the most relevant, widely understood certification marks can be used on newer, greener packaging.

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