Environmental claims confuse consumers — even natural shoppers

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, May 26, 2022

As the world emerges, haltingly from COVID-19, new challenges emerge. In this feature, New Hope Network provides an ongoing update on those challenges and the opportunities they hold. Look for the Industry Health Monitor every other Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.

While walking through Natural Products Expo West, it might have been easy to get the impression that the regenerative revolution had arrived and achieved buzzword status.

Step outside the hallways, maybe cross the street to the Disneyland parking lot, and you’d be greeted with more shrugs than nods for what is a truly intuitive term. In new consumer research from New Hope’s Next Data & Insights team, we learn that 44% of consumers say they have never heard the term “regenerative” and don’t know what it means. Only 19% say they know what it means.

The numbers are not a whole lot better for most of the claims on the survey. The best-known concept, organic, is still not entirely understood by nearly a third of consumers. The 6% who say they have never heard of it may be a small percentage, but even six in a hundred is a “huh?” moment.

Asked about other environmental terms, consumers answer with a level of awareness that’s uneven at best. More people say they’ve never heard of carbon offsetting than claim they understand it. The same is true for all but three of the claims in the survey.

We can call it encouraging that 42% say they understand upcycling, a fairly new term. We might attribute that to the intuitive nature of the term and its association with “recycling.” But we can also shake our heads in dismay that the number of people who say they have heard of and understand “mollusk friendly” is remarkably close to the number who say the same for regenerative agriculture. We will call that troubling, because, while we can get behind “mollusk friendly,” it’s a term that we totally made up!

The lesson in all of this is rather obvious: Step beyond the Expo halls and the aisles of natural grocery and talk to people outside the industry. Poking your head outside the bubbles in which we all lurk is good for all manner of beliefs, especially ones that are strongly held but trend toward the insular. The other lesson, of course, is one we’ve said here before: education.

If consumers don’t understand these terms and values, it’s harder for them to care. If it’s harder for them to care, it’s harder for those terms and values ​​to influence how they spend their money.

The important thing to remember in the education piece is that education is engagement; education is connection. People migrated to natural grocers decades ago to escape chemicals and additives. Those were causes. Every block on the chart above is a kind of cause (OK, maybe not “mollusk friendly,” at least not in any organized way). Causes and concerns are the bedrock of the natural products industry.

Claims like the ones in the survey are not just bedrock, they serve as a stairstep progression. The people who are buying “pasture raised” probably started with “cage free.” The 88% of consumers who say they’ve heard of non-GMO might, and should, step up to organic. Every cause in this survey could be a step in a journey to more responsible purchases and more educated consumers.

It’s up to the natural products industry to help those consumers make those steps, which brings us to the fact that molluskfriendly.com is an available URL.

And you can register it for $ 2.99.

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