Consumer Goods Brands That Demonstrate Commitment To Sustainability Outperform Those That Don’t

NEW YORK, Oct. 12, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Committing to sustainability might just pay off for consumer brands, according to the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report. In the past year alone, sales of consumer goods from brands with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability have grown more than 4% globally, while those without grew less than 1%.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 1.35.50 PMTo gain better insight into the factors that influence consumer sentiment and purchase behavior, Nielsen polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries across the globe. Consumers were asked how much influence factors such as the environment, packaging, price, marketing, and organic or health and wellness claims had on their consumer goods purchase decisions.

“Sustainability is a worldwide concern that continues to gain momentum—especially in countries where growing populations are putting additional stress on the environment,” says Grace Farraj, senior vice president, Public Development & Sustainability, Nielsen. “An increasing number of consumers in developed regions consider sustainability actions more of an imperative than a value-add.”

Topping the list of sustainability factors that influence purchasing for nearly two-of-three (62%) consumers globally: brand trust.

“This indicates an opportunity for consumer goods brands that have already built a high level of trust with consumers to evaluate where best to introduce sustainable products into the market to drive growth,” says Carol Gstalder, senior vice president, Reputation & Public Relations Solutions, Nielsen. “On the flip side, large global consumer goods brands that ignore sustainability increase reputational and business risk. This may give competitors of all sizes, the opportunity to build trust with the predominantly young, socially- conscious consumer looking for products that align with their values.”

Sixty-six percent of global respondents say they are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, up from 55% in 2014 (and 50% in 2013). And it’s no longer just wealthy suburbanites in major markets willing to open their wallets for sustainable offerings. Consumers across regions, income levels, and categories are willing to pay more, if doing so ensures they remain loyal to their values. Sustainability sentiment is particularly consistent across income levels. Those earning $20,000 or less are actually 5% more willing than those with incomes greater than $50,000 to pay more for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact (68% vs. 63%).

“Consumer brands that haven’t embraced sustainability are at risk on many fronts,” says Gstalder. “Social responsibility is a critical part of proactive reputation management. And companies with strong reputations outperform others when it comes to attracting top talent, investors, community partners, and importantly, consumers.”

Despite the fact that Millennials are coming of age in one of the most difficult economic climates in the past 100 years, they continue to be most willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings—almost three-out-of-four respondents (73%) in the latest findings, up from approximately half in 2014. The rise in the percentage of respondents under 20, also known as Generation Z, who are willing to pay more was equally strong—from 55% of total respondents in 2014 to 72% in 2015.

“Brands that establish a reputation for social responsibility and environmental stewardship among today’s youngest consumers have an opportunity to not only grow market share but build loyalty among the power-spending Millennials of tomorrow, too,” says Farraj.

Consumers are looking for products that are both good for them and good for society. A product’s health and wellness benefits are influential purchase decision drivers for more than half of survey respondents (59%). Products made with fresh, natural, and/or organic ingredients carry similar weight with consumers (57%). Finding opportunities to bridge the two is a powerful and impactful way to connect with consumers.

When it comes to sales intent, commitment to the environment has the power to sway product purchase for 45% of consumers surveyed. Commitment to either social value or the consumer’s community are also important (each influencing 43% and 41% of respondents, respectively). Retail data backs up the importance of these influencers. In 2014, 65% of total sales of consumer goods measured globally were generated by brands whose marketing conveyed commitment to social and/or environmental value.

“The hierarchy among drivers of consumer loyalty and brand performance is changing,” says Farraj. “Commitment to social and environmental responsibility is surpassing some of the more traditional influences for many consumers. Consumer goods brands that fail to take this into account will likely fall behind.”

TV ads highlighting a company’s commitment to positive social and/or environmental impact are influential in the path to purchase for 34% of global respondents. Brands that actively reinforce societal commitment must amplify and socialize their message using multiple sources and distribution channels.

Says Gstalder: “While marketing good deeds is encouraged and expected by consumers, authenticity and credibility are essential. Using multiple communication methods is important to demonstrate good deeds, such as third-party validation (news coverage), annual reports, affiliation with a respected non-profit or civic organization, employee volunteerism, advertising, or reporting actual work in the community on a web site. A balanced approach is key for brand communicators, with the emphasis on demonstrating good deeds versus self-serving promotion. ”

While the relative importance of sustainable factors that influence the path to purchase is consistent across regions, the overall rates were lower in North America and Europe than in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Consumers in developing markets are often closer to and more aware of the needs in their surrounding communities as they are reminded daily of the challenges around them, which leads to a desire to give back and help others. This suggests a greater likelihood to seek out and pay more for sustainable products.

When it comes to sustainability, the findings show it is generally harder to influence consumers in developed markets to pay more. Consumers in Latin America, Asia, Middle East, and Africa are 23%-29% more willing to pay a premium for sustainable offerings.

“Consumers in developed markets are flooded by choice, often making them more skeptical and therefore harder to influence,” says Farraj. “Consumers are starting to consider sustainable practices a basic cost of entry, rather than a market differentiator. Going forward, brands have to define a credible, relevant social purpose, deliver greater social value, and communicate that value effectively to attract and retain consumers.”

ABOUT THE RETAIL SALES ANALYSIS: The findings from the retail sales information included in this report are collected from stores using electronic point-of-sale technology and/or teams of local field auditors. The data represents a cross-section of 1,319 brands among 13 categories (both consumable and non-consumable categories) across an average of 13 countries* for the 12-month period ending December 2014. On average, the brands measured in this study represent 73% of 2014 value sales (USD) in each country-category analyzed (private label brands were not included). Stores within Nielsen’s worldwide retail network include grocery, drug, convenience and discount retailers, who, through various cooperation arrangements, share their sales data with Nielsen.

ABOUT THE GLOBAL SURVEY: The Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability was conducted between Feb. 23-March 13, 2015, and polled more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and North America. The sample has quotas based on age and sex for each country based on its Internet users, and is weighted to be representative of Internet consumers. It has a margin of error of ±0.6 percent. This Nielsen survey is based only on the behavior of respondents with online access. Internet penetration rates vary by country. Nielsen uses a minimum reporting standard of 60 percent Internet penetration or an online population of 10 million for survey inclusion. The Nielsen Global Survey, which includes the Global Consumer Confidence Index, was established in 2005.

ABOUT NIELSEN: Nielsen N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global performance management company that provides a comprehensive understanding of what consumers Watch and Buy. Nielsen’s Watch segment provides media and advertising clients with Total Audience measurement services across all devices where content — video, audio and text — is consumed. The Buy segment offers consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers the industry’s only global view of retail performance measurement. By integrating information from its Watch and Buy segments and other data sources, Nielsen provides its clients with both world-class measurement as well as analytics that help improve performance. Nielsen, an S&P 500 company, has operations in over 100 countries that cover more than 90 percent of the world’s population. For more information, visit

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