Sustainability. Eco-friendly. Green. All buzzwords used -- though not consistently or backed by any common definitions or standards -- to describe products and practices that are supposedly kinder to the environment and, some believe, the health of humans and animals (including pets).
Yesterday AdAge.com announced that the US Federal Trade Commission will likely be releasing new "Green Guides" very soon to at least direct, if not regulate, how companies use marketing and packaging claims related to sustainability and environmental impact.
These new guidelines may help establish some standards and common definitions, at least in the US, which could go a long way in helping consumers sort through such green claims. Because if one thing is certain, it's that consumers (and probably most marketers) could really use some clarification.
In "World Gone Green," an article in the August issue of Food Technology (published by the Institute of Food Technologists, or IFT), Krista Faron of Mintel breaks down the latest research on what US consumers think about sustainability. Much of this research applies to consumer packaged goods, including petfood.
Self-reported "green" purchasing behavior has changed dramatically just since 2006 and through 2007, though it has plateaued since. Just four years ago, 12% of consumers surveyed by Mintel were labeled as "True Greens": people who regularly purchased green products. By end of 2007, that figure had more than doubled, to 27%.
Mintel forecasts sales of natural and organic foods and beverages in mass retailers excluding Walmart and natural channels to increase 4.8% this year and 6.1% in 2011. (For natural and organic petfood data, see the latest research from Packaged Facts.)
That's the good news. The bad news, Faron says, is the high point for sustainability appears to have passed, at least in terms of spending patterns.
Much of the article discusses green marketing and labeling claims and just how confusing or even invisible these are to consumers. Faron argues that perhaps better visibility, awareness and definition of claims could have an influence on spending patterns and purchasing behavior.
The other point that stands out is that price is still a huge factor in whether consumers will respond to green claims and actually buy the products. This is especially true during tough economic times but appears to have always been the case: Like petfood, green products overall seem fairly recession-proof. Mintel's research shows green purchasing behavior has remained "remarkably similar in the boom times of late 2007, recessionary climate of October 2008 and January 2010 and, most recently, in June 2010," Faron writes.