Sustainable packaging: what makes the consumer tick!?

Well informed buyers making decisions rationally are the exception, and this also applies to packaging. Its importance in the marketing mix should therefore not be underestimated.

“Over 95 per cent of all purchasing decisions are made unconsciously – not rationally, but emotionally,” says market researcher and strategist Dr Ralf Mayer de Groot, citing a central finding of brain research. “But what makes the customer really tick? What are the real reasons for buying? How can you influence brand choice? Which emotions trigger purchases – and why don’t others?” These questions are not easy to answer, as well-known case studies from the brand industry impressively demonstrate. The introduction of plastic packaging for a chocolate bar, for example, not only brought a manufacturer a lot of environmental criticism and negative PR, but also the loss of a third of its market share, and costs in the high double-digit million range.

The importance of packaging is underestimated

Such stories are by no means exceptional. If the packaging material for beverages1, sweets or cleaning agents is changed and redesigned as part of the relaunch, this can have a significant impact on the success or failure of a product. “Even supposedly minor packaging changes can evoke associations which have major effects on image and sales,” Mayer de Groot explains.

This shows the immense importance of packaging in the marketing mix. “It is the most concentrated form of the brand idea, positioning and differentiating the product in the most direct way. Packaging is the most cost-effective and longest-lasting means of communication at the point of use.” But 55 per cent of all marketing experts still underestimate the strategic importance of packaging and product design. Both are far too rarely tested rigorously in advance.

The informed buyer is the exception

The market research figures show how inconsistent consumers are when shopping: 70 per cent of all purchasing decisions are made at the POS in less than four seconds on average. Over a fifth of all planned purchases are actually broken off at the POS. “Even when it comes to sustainability, consumers cannot be trusted to behave as they say they will,” as market research has also shown. Terms like “life cycle assessment”, “CO2 footprint” and “biodegradable” are understood to some extent, but not completely. In the case of cardboard and paper, respondents still feel “relatively confident” in their ability to assess them. But in reality their knowledge is limited. In the case of plastic, statements such as “causes a lot of (plastic) waste and is harmful to the environment” dominate. 90 per cent of consumers would like to see environmental information on the packaging, but they do not recognise 11 of the 13 eco-labels in the test.

Sustainable packaging fails due to price

This is also demonstrated by the example of fresh blueberries. According to surveys, the most important thing for consumers is the quality of the berries – fresh, tasty, ripe, good appearance and healthy. The packaging properties are expected to ensure that the berries are clearly visible and well protected, and can be easily stored in the package. All these are far more important to consumers than ecological criteria such as eco-friendly packaging material or good recyclability. Almost 40 per cent of buyers are still not prepared to pay more for sustainable packaging, so that a large target group will continue to buy transparent plastic packaging. The drivers in the market are visibility of the berries and lower prices. Groundwood pulp, moulded fibre and cardboard trays, on the other hand, meet the needs of more environmentally oriented consumers who are prepared to pay higher prices.

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