Study: Consumers Lack the Know-how for Sustainable Packaging
3/26/2024 Insights Article

Study: Consumers Lack the Know-how for Sustainable Packaging

According to the results of the new “DLG-Insights Sustainable Packaging 2024” study by the German Agricultural Society, many consumers lack knowledge about packaging materials, among other things. Only a minority are prepared to spend more money on appropriate packaging.

Holger Buxel, Professor of Service and Product Marketing at Münster University of Applied Sciences. Holger Buxel is Professor of Service and Product Marketing at Münster University of Applied Sciences. He is co-author of the DLG-Insights Sustainable Packaging 2024 study.
Companies in the food industry, and with them the packaging industry, continue to face challenges when it comes to the sustainability of packaging. At the top of the list are the search for affordable solutions for suitable materials, further information for consumers to improve the lack of know-how and increase consumer acceptance, as well as the question of suitable and distinct seals for packaging. The German Agricultural Society (DLG) has addressed these issues in the new “DLG-Insights Sustainable Packaging 20242 study". The authors of the study are Prof. Dr. Holger Buxel, Professor of Marketing in the Food Sector at Münster University of Applied Sciences, and Dipl.-Ing. Simone Schiller MPH, Managing Director of the DLG Food Center. The study was based on a representative survey of 1,000 consumers in spring 2023.
Infographic bar chart with results of the DLG Insights Sustainable Packaging 2024 study. The infographic shows the results of the DLG survey: How well known are seals and labels when it comes to environmentally friendly packaging?

Lack of Willingness to Pay

For 79 percent of respondents, packaging needs to be produced in a more environmentally friendly way. According to the study, the producers of packaging (67 percent) and food (58percent) are called upon by consumers to achieve an improvement. Study author Buxel believes that companies “face the central challenge of developing more environmentally friendly packaging concepts”. He cites consumers’ willingness to pay and to change their purchasing and disposal behavior accordingly as the framework for implementing this issue. This is because 73 percent of the 186 companies surveyed rated the lack of willingness to pay as the biggest barrier to greater use of sustainable packaging.

“The current situation is that many consumers are unable to classify whether a product is packaged in an environmentally friendly way or not, and the willingness to pay for environmentally friendly packaging is low”, Buxel explains to FACHPACK360°.

Food suppliers must therefore make the environmentally relevant factors clear to customers and communicate the advantages of the respective packaging. There are deficits in the comprehensibility of the information, however. According to 64 percent of suppliers, consumers do not know which foods are packaged sustainably and if so to what extent.

Customers Want More Precise Information

However, companies with appropriate communication concepts are not falling on deaf ears, as 65 percent of those surveyed would like more and more precise information, Buxel concludes. A key element is good placement on the packaging. “In the visible areas, such as on the front of the products, not in the small print.” They want information that they can process easily and quickly. Long texts or elaborate explanations are often not helpful here, continues Buxel.


Labels as an Important Criterion

The corresponding seals or labels are waywisers. Companies should communicate with customers with labels. The information can be conveyed in a visually self-explanatory way and without a lot of words by means of graphic presentation. Buxel names three decisive criteria for the credibility of the label. “The awarding of the label must be based on clearly defined criteria. It is also important that the criteria are simple and comprehensible, so that even laypeople understand what has been tested. And finally, compliance with the criteria must be verified externally and independently.” He advises the companies and sectors involved to concentrate on just a few labels. “Too many labels lead to consumer confusion.” According to the results of the study, the Green Dot and the reusable label are at the top of the list, with 76 percent of respondents being familiar with each of them and 74 percent being familiar with the recycling triangle. Statements on reusability/recyclability and recycling receive a lot of attention, while awareness of the topic of climate protection is lower.