Expert: Brands With Sustainability as Added Value Have a Better Position
4/27/2023 Insights Retail Sustainability Interview

Expert: Brands With Sustainability as Added Value Have a Better Position

In an interview with FACHPACK360°, Petra Süptitz, Director Marketing & Consumer Intelligence DACH at GfK, talks about consumer trends and sustainability.

Petra Süptitz, Director Marketing & Consumer Intelligence DACH at GfK Petra Süptitz ist Director Marketing & Consumer Intelligence DACH at GfK.

Which impact do the continuing price increases have on the topic of sustainability?

Even if organic products are currently in somewhat less demand, sustainability remains an important topic for consumers in Germany. More than 70 percent consider climate change to be a serious problem. Concern about climate change is second only to concern about inflation. This is remarkable, because when asked about the biggest problems in Germany, respondents could choose from 26 answers.
According to our survey results, protecting the environment is also more important to people than fitness and health. 65 percent of Germans expect companies to act in an environmentally friendly way, for example by using sustainable materials.
So, sustainability remains a mega trend. Has anything changed nonetheless?

60 percent of the people surveyed would still like to shop sustainably. However, more people are shopping at discount stores than before. There, they are increasingly reaching for private labels. So, the brand manufacturers have a strong competitive environment. They have to credibly develop and present sustainability as added value in order to stand out. This can be achieved with innovative packaging that is sustainable but also functional. The social component is also playing an increasingly important role in purchasing. Does the brand share my value system? Are ethical standards adhered to during production? More and more discounters and private labels are responding to this demand and providing information about product origin and supply routes. Aldi and Lidl, for example, with their animal welfare labeling -– this is catching on with consumers.

So far, there have been parallel trends such as the trend toward individualization (batch size 1) and the trend toward sustainability. Does they still fit together?

It depends on the target aufience. For example, there are more and more small households due to the demographic factor. Therefore, small packaging can protect against food waste and thus be sustainable. The importance of customized products has decreased over the last few years, but still plays a role. This is somewhat at odds with the desire for "easy shopping." No one wants to have to choose between 50 different yogurts in the supermarket. In short, yes, individual solutions can be sustainable, but it must not become too complicated.

The cosmetics industry offers an example of how individualization and sustainability can harmonize with the help of digitization. There are apps that can be used to communicate individual skin types, making it easier to choose the right cosmetic product and avoiding incorrect purchases and waste.
More and more manufacturers are switching packaging from plastic to paper. What is your opinion on this development?
In their minds' eye consumers see images of littered coasts and oceans. That's why paper has a better public image than plastic. However, most consumers do not know how sustainable packaging is, because many are not aware of the value chain. The ecological footprint is the totality of many factors -– from the production of the product to its packaging and transportation. So, packaging is only one component of that. It always depends on the product for which the packaging is intended. Plastic can protect food and thus prevent waste. The issue has to be looked at holistically.

You mentioned image. Can the sustainability trend also slip uncontrollably into greenwashing?

In the end, no company can afford to appear only ecological and not be so in the end. Authenticity is important for the consumer; the brand must offer trust. Any dishonesty will be punished with a public shitstorm. Consumers want transparent communication about the product and packaging. Even if a brand manufacturer defines its sustainability goals and communicates that not all steps have been achieved yet, this is transparent and not necessarily a disadvantage.

What type of packaging is currently in particular demand?

In food, there is a high level of acceptance for paper packaging or packaging that looks sustainable. Refillable packaging is particularly in demand in the consumer goods sector. And there are more and more of them. Also sustainable packaging is increasingly in demand in the non-food sector as well.
Recycling is the talk of the town among experts. Is that also the case with consumers?

Recycling has a high priority throughout Europe. 77 percent of people in Germany separate paper, glass, and plastic waste. Three-quarters of consumers pay attention to recyclable packaging -– slightly fewer in the non-food sector -– but that is still the majority of consumers: the figures.

Petra Süptitz joined GfK, Germany's largest market research institute, in 2017 and advises her clients on consumer trends. Sustainability is one of her current focus topics. Before that, the economist worked in marketing at the food company Bahlsen.