When a consumer buys a product, packaging plays an important role. The packaging informs the consumer about the product. Packaging shape and function are important factors that can affect consumer perception and brand experience. The sustainability of the packaging can affect perception as well.
A consumer doesn’t always understand the basic functions of packaging straight away. This may involve product loss, waste prevention and guaranteeing safe product use. It seems like these vital functions tend to get lost in the mire of the societal discussion on the purpose and necessity of packaging, which is concerned with overuse of packaging material and the extent to which packaging materials contribute to litter and ocean pollution.
Making an objective assessment of the environmental impact of packaging isn’t always straightforward for consumers. Consumer perception and convictions can be very different from a scientific environmental impact assessment provided by a life cycle analysis. Research shows that six in ten (62%) European consumers are prepared to pay more for groceries packed in less plastic. The challenge when developing sustainable packaging is therefore to take into account both the scientific environmental impact and consumer perception simultaneously.
Packaging can also be used to communicate sustainability measures. Research shows that consumers want to be aided in making a conscious choice. This may involve environmental information about the contents as well as the packaging itself. When applying packaging, it is important to consider whether it is really necessary and to communicate why the packaging is indeed a good idea. A piece of cling film wrapped around a cucumber will greatly extend its shelf life. While allowing the cucumber to go bad means you also waste the natural gas that was used to heat the greenhouse where the cucumber was grown.
Situation in various countries
Research showed that almost half of Dutch consumers (48%) paid attention to sustainability aspects when purchasing products or services in 2017. This percentage remained stable at 30% until 2013 and then grew steadily (source: Gfk and B-open). Packaging played an important part. Plus, the global market for sustainable packaging is growing by over 14% annually (source: Marketing Tribune). This offer a lot of opportunities from a consumer perspective.
Environmental claims are advertising statements, often also found on packaging, that implicitly or explicitly refer to environmental aspects related to the production, distribution, consumption or waste processing of goods or services. But are such claims really true? The Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging has published a factsheet to clarify which claims are allowed and which are not, for instance because they are misleading. The factsheet can be accessed here.
The average consumer opens 7 to 10 items of packaging a day. Packaging affects consumer behaviour when purchasing, using and disposing of the product-packaging combination. The packaging often says a lot about the content but what about the packaging itself? Sustainable packaging can contribute to sustainable consumer behaviour. Plenty of reason to consider how packaging affects consumer behaviour when developing packaging.
Consumers are becoming increasingly vocal. Growing societal pressure is prompting more and more companies to adopt sustainable packaging solutions. Once we consider packaging from the consumer’s perspective, sustainable packaging becomes an important part of the marketing mix as well as an added value for the customer. Three stages are distinguished when it comes to consumer behaviour related to packaging: buying, use and waste disposal.
European Consumer Packaging Perceptions study, An independent assessment of the importance of packaging sustainability on consumers’ purchasing decisions
Paper – published by ProCarton
Consumer response to packaging design: the role of packaging materials and graphics in sustainability perception and product evaluations
Paper – published by Journal of Cleaner Production 162
Effects of sustainable design strategies on consumer preferences for redesigned packaging
Paper – published by Journal of Cleaner Production 205