Unpacking Plastic Packaging

This article first appeared in British Columbia Organic Grower Fall 2019 Issue

How to combat the negative media around plastic packaging and tell your sustainability story

We live in a media-driven world.  Today the word plastic is associated with pollution in the oceans evoking images of sea turtles mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish and beaches covered with garbage.  It is not difficult to understand how those images of garbage heaps, dirty beaches and suffering wildlife might influence consumer purchase intent.

So what do you do when you chose your packaging for food safety, shelf life, and recyclability but all your consumer sees is plastic?

What if Plastic Packaging is The Best Option?

The coverage around bans on plastic straws and single-use plastic bags is causing an increase in anti-plastic sentiment which in turn is influencing consumer purchase intent.

What do you do if you determine plastic packaging is the BEST option for your product?

Communicate to your consumer that:

  1. You have considered sustainability in your packaging decisions;
  2. Your company has a sustainability policy and goals that direct your choices; and,
  3. Your packaging choices do reflect that policy and those goals.

The trick is to convey all of that effectively in the 4-second glance your product might get as your consumer scans the grocery store shelf.

It is not an easy task.  But it is becoming a necessary one.

The average grocery store has 40,000+ products

How will you stand out?

We know that sustainability is influencing consumer purchase intent. A recent Nielsen study showed that 81% of consumers worldwide believe that companies ought to employ sustainable business practices.

According to the report, "Brands that are able to strategically connect (sustainability) to actual behavior are in a good place to capitalize on increased consumer expectation and demand."

Here’s what you can do:

Do Your Research – Investigate which of your sustainability goals move the needle with your target audience. Don’t assume that you know which of your company’s goals have the biggest influence or you might invest in the wrong product attribute.  Instead, get out of the building and ask your target audience why they buy your product and how your plastic packaging might influence their purchase.

Increase Visual Appeal - Marketing today is visually driven. How can you tell your sustainability story better?  Update your social media headers, update your packaging, change your sell sheets.  Turn your company sustainability goals into a core value that is shared as a primary part of your brand’s story.

Make It Easy – Consumers want you to do the work for them.  How can you make it easy for them to learn about your sustainability goals?  Try a QR code that drives consumers to an area of your website that clearly outlines what you do for the planet and why you do it.  Be ready at tradeshow and markets to answer those hard questions.  Better yet, ask and answer those questions for consumers.  Put it on your FAQ page, put it on your home page, put it on your social media banners, whatever you do, make it easy to see and understand.

Be Honest – Although this may seem obvious, don’t try to ‘greenwash’ your packaging to increase sales. Consumers are savvier than ever and nothing will hurt your brand more than being found out.   No one likes being lied to.

In the future, grocery shoppers may be able to scan store products quickly and easily to discover which ones align with their sustainability values.  It is already starting with an app that identifies dietary needs.  But for now, it is up to the company to make sure their consumers hear their story.

As sustainability attributes gain importance in the consumer sphere of influence, companies that are agile and quick to pivot will see the fastest returns. This particular attribute is unlikely to be a fad, as the climate crisis looms before us.  Yet another reason to get clear on how to share your company’s message.

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