The Rise of the Socially Conscious Consumer
How the Fairtrade movement in the early noughties opened the door to a generation of consumers that demand fairness for both people, and our planet; and what brands can do when positioning themselves to capture the Generation Z.
When was the last time you picked up a product and put it back because something on the label didn’t sit well with you? How often do you purposely choose products based on their parent brands reputation for championing sustainable practises? For a growing number of Generation Z shoppers these are question and challenges they have front of mind when choosing products. For brands it is imperative that they fully understand what these questions mean to their in-store activations, how they appear on shelf, how they communicate with a consumer that has a growing need to be assured that they are not just buying another jar of coffee, another box of tea bags, another bag of rice.
Recent studies commissioned by the European Union and several Fairtrade and ethical fashion companies (as part of the of the Trade Fair, Live Fair project) highlight that across the United Kingdom and our major European counterparts, consumers are actively looking for brands to lead the way on sustainable sourcing and equality. 84% of respondents stated that they wanted brands to act on global poverty along with 88% requesting action on protecting the environment.
These facts may seem like a repetitive loop now, but there is a reason. A growing proportion of the population is not happy with the way that consumerism has impacted and affected millions of lives over multiple generations. The “Make Poverty History” campaign back in the early noughties demonstrated this, and now more than fifteen years later the same messages and demands are still being made; the above study is clear evidence of this. But this time it’s with a new generation, one that has grown up with the Fairtrade mark, the increased consumer messaging from millennial-centric companies such as Starbucks and Cadbury. Generation Z has had a taste of what can be done, and now wants more. These young shoppers and consumers are encouraged to keep pushing for equality and fairness from the everyday products that we all use and consume. There is a sense of togetherness that is fostered by purchasing and recommending brands which operate within a set of mutuality aligned values.
A staple in most UK households, the banana is one such product. Many growers of the potassium-packed fruit are in fact smallholders throughout the developing world, all linking together through local co-operatives which can be imperative when faced with the current challenges of climate change and disease as they offer a succinct platform for sharing best-practices.
Through practices encouraged by sustainable sourcing certification and accreditation programmes such as the Fairtrade Foundation (FT) and Rainforest Alliance (RFA), growers can keep their livelihoods sustainable for the long-term. These accreditation programmes differ greatly and are hotly debated within the relevant industries, but what they do from a brand’s perspective is give the consumer confidence through instantly recognisable labels, that the product they are purchasing has been sourced sustainably. The Fairtrade mark goes one step further, demonstrating also that growers have been paid a fair price for their crop, whilst also protecting growers when markets plummet.
One of the largest distributors of bananas for the UK market, SH Pratt, has worked with both Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certified producers and growers, and has seen the direct utilisation of these certification models to solidify the ethical credentials of retailers such as Tesco (who have committed to sourcing 100% RFA certified bananas), Aldi, and Morrison’s.
Tim Brill, Commercial Director, believes that “Given the increased focus on this area from the retail sector, full transparency of all elements of the supply chain has become crucial to maintaining strategic relationships”. He goes on to state that “There remains huge price pressure on the whole supply chain to remain both competitive, yet the same supply chain needs to be seen as sustainable at the same time. The current exchange rates will no doubt continue to squeeze the supply chain and some of this is likely to lead to further inflation tweaks to formats and prices”.
If the key to long-term sustainability for the growers and producers are reliant on the sustainability of the manufacturers and distributors, how can these seemingly conflicting commercial objectives work together? SH Pratt are already seeing how this can work through reduction in pack sizes for the same consumer price, allowing for investment in transparency where it’s needed. To coincide with this, however, there needs to remain a strong focus on creating dynamic in store activations that both engage and educate consumers on the choices they’re making at the point of purchase.
Take the coffee aisle, for example, Sainsbury’s recently re-worked the aisles in several stores, aiming to educate the consumer on what ‘type’ of coffee they may wish to buy. As a self-professed coffee geek this is excellent, but if you’re a coffee brand that only sources and roasts Fairtrade coffee, does the Fairtrade mark on your packaging tell your potential buyers everything they need to know in an aisle that will more than certainly been monopolised by the multi-nationals? Does your packaging reflect your brand ethos? Does your brand stand out from the crowd? Is there an opportunity for you to invest in point of sale, such as shelf trays and barkers, that speak loudly and clearly above your competitors? Can your brand say “Hey! You want to know where this came from? Well, here it is!”.
The study from the European Union highlighted that customers struggle to differentiate between ethical sourcing labels (such as FT and RFA), showing that there is a real need for further education. Therefore, as we continue to witness a growing need to clearly see both the manufacturing provenance and traceability of ingredients of the products, we purchase every day, there is a gap that must be filled by brands if they want to succeed in this ever-increasing marketplace. In store execution, as part of an education focussed marketing campaign, is crucial to capture the hearts and minds of the growing Gen Z shoppers who will continue to amplify brands they feel an affinity with.
In store is where consumers stand at fixture, seemingly overwhelmed by choice, looking for a brand to shout, ‘buy me’. It’s a point of influence that must be utilised without devaluing a brand. You see for some of the larger brand owners on our shopping list, the historical way of incentivising sale has been to reduce the price. But this isn’t a sustainable practice for many smaller brands, and so leads to consumers only purchasing when a price promotion is live with no repeat purchase in the down-time. By incentivising consumers in different ways through engaging, interactive, and dynamic in store activation that physically pits your product against its competitors with a strong message of value and vision, brands can achieve sustainable, long-term sales and achieve the ultimate euphoria of brand affinity; the consumer saying, “I love this product and will buy it regardless of price or competition incentivisation”.
We cannot convince ourselves that these issues will go away. Children as young as primary school age are now being taught within the classroom environment to think globally, and to challenge the impact of older generations decision on how the world has been managed. Therefore, every brand’s long-term strategy must be to answer the questions of the next generation of shoppers; creating a sustainable global marketplace that ensures stability for both the current and future generations of our fragile planet.